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Russia's 'CIS' Grocery Off To Flying Start Amid Sanctions

  • Tom Balmforth

Dmitry Puchkin and his uncle are running the CIS Market store.

Dmitry Puchkin and his uncle are running the CIS Market store.

MOSCOW -- Stocked to the gunwales with Western-imported delicacies, Moscow’s scores of high-end supermarkets were thrown into disarray by the Kremlin’s ban on food imports last month.

But not all Moscow shops suffered. One supermarket in the Russian capital that has just thrown open its doors may have stumbled across a winning formula.

Welcome to "CIS Market," a new grocery store selling fruit, meat, confections, and milk products from Russia and other former Soviet republics. The cozy cellar store that opened earlier this month in a swanky Moscow district hopes to harness the hail of tit-for-tat sanctions to cash in on the feverish patriotism and Soviet nostalgia at home.

The store cherry-picks and sells goods from the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) political bloc that comprises many of the former Soviet republics. The new supermarket has emerged largely unscathed from the Kremlin’s trade wars, which include a ban on food imports from the United States, Australia, Canada, and the 28-state European Union.

What’s more, shoppers at CIS Market appear to revel in the patriotism of a store that relies only on goods from Russia and its former Soviet neighbors, harking back to the autarky of the Soviet Union, said the director of the store.

"The sanctions definitely play into our hands," says Dmitry Puchkin, the 20-year old director of the weeks-old CIS Market who said the shop is off to a flying start.

Puchkin’s family began planning the shop a year ago, long before the Ukraine crisis decimated Moscow’s ties with the West.

"It was a complete coincidence that we appeared amid this wave of sanctions. But people like [our shop]. They link our store with [Russian] politics: They are content and happy about it and smile," he said.

'Near Abroad' Nibbles

In the main hall, dark red lettering on plain white walls spells out the names of CIS countries like Russia, Belarus, and Armenia above several food counters. The shop, staffed by migrant workers from former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan, sells Uzbek-style pastries, Belarusian dairy products, pork, and lamb from Daghestan in Russia’s North Caucasus region, and beef from Russia’s "Black Earth" region of Voronezh, among other foodstuffs.

Puchkin says he is pleased with the store’s performance so far. "The sales trends are positive, and we haven't even started advertising," he said. "Many people don't even know about this shop yet. We're still filling up the shelves."

The store is still small but the owner says he would like to start a chain.

The store is still small but the owner says he would like to start a chain.

Valentin, a former civil servant who came by on a recent afternoon to pick up some Belarusian sausage and a pack of cigarettes, called CIS Market a "convenient" stopover on his way back home.

A 67-year-old Tver native who lives in Moscow, Valentin lauded the shop’s "patriotism," adding that the "groceries here are good quality, especially the Belarusian ones."

Irina, a retired economist, praised the quality of the products as well, although said she would prefer it if the shop relied exclusively on Russian produce rather than selling goods from Russia's "Near Abroad," an umbrella term for Russia’s former Soviet neighbors.

"We have to plan before things happen and not expect anything from anyone else," she said.

Eye On Expansion

CIS Market is another example of how the Moscow consumer landscape has changed as Russia’s ties with the West have plunged to a post-Cold War low.

A short walk up the road from CIS Market stands Moscow’s iconic first McDonald's, which opened in 1990 amid the Soviet Union’s perestroika reforms and was shuttered by authorities last month.

The fast food joint was closed on August 21 for "sanitary violations," a move widely seen as politically motivated.

Next door to the closed McDonald's is an outlet of the Aleksander Konasov clothing store that sells garments embossed with images of Russian President Vladimir Putin in manly and heroic poses alongside captions like "Crimea Is Ours," a reference to the Kremlin’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in March.

But CIS Market has not been impervious to Russian trade wars.

The store had in fact sold Roshen chocolates until the Ukrainian confectioner's operations were suspended in Russia this month. Imports of Roshen, which is owned by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, have been banned since earlier this year.

Puchkin said they were also forced to terminate sales of Ukrainian milk products because of a ban. But he said these barriers won’t stop him.
"We have ambitious plans," Puchkin said. "We want to set up a chain. That’s the goal."

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