Russia to Do Without Italian Mozzarella, Cheese Producers Say

PHOTO by olinchuk / Depositphotos/ Depositphotos
European-produced mozzarella will not be able to regain its share of the Russian market in the event that the food embargo is lifted

Freshly-produced Russian cheese is of better quality and cheaper, said the head of the company Umalat. According to ACORT, the share of Russian cheeses in retail has doubled to 80% over the past two years.

Russian producers of mozzarella are not afraid of the lifting of the sanctions, because they were able to replace imported products, Alexei Martynenko, CEO of the cheese manufacturer Umalat, told reporters.

"Even if the sanctions are discontinued, we are not afraid of this. It's possible now to import cheese from Switzerland. But Swiss mozzarella, first of all, is expensive, and secondly, is much worse than ours and that of other Russian producers. Therefore, there is no chance for foreign companies, even Italian ones, to occupy the market after the embargo is lifted. Italians strongly resent the fact that Russia has replaced their mozzarella," Martynenko said.

According to the CEO of Umalat, import substitution of mozzarella in Russia took place before the sanctions were even imposed. "There's not much of a problem in replacing mozzarella, because its shelf life is 25 days. You bring it from Italy and put it into the fridge, but it will no longer be real mozzarella. The unique feature of fresh cheese is that it doesn't mature and its quality gradually deteriorates. Mozzarella is not to be eaten on the thirtieth day," he said.

But not all cheeses in the world lend themselves to import substitution. "Speaking about the entire market of cheeses, I think 90% can be replaced. But there are ten percent that can't. This includes Parmesan and many French cheeses," stressed the CEO of Umalat.

In 2016, mozzarella came in second place in Moscow in consumption following curd cheese, noted Martynenko. Adygei cheese ranks second in the regions.

Making cheese at the Proviant company, which produces different varieties of cheese based on an Italian technological process, in the village of Alexei-Nikolskoye, Primorye Region. Among the cheeses produced are mozzarella, ricotta and caciocavallo

Double the Growth

The quality of Russian mozzarella comes close to Italian, agreed the Head of the Association of Retail Companies (ACORT) Ilya Lomakin-Rumyantsev.

During the two years of the food embargo, the Russian cheese market has changed beyond recognition, said ACORT Director of External Relations Ksenia Burdanova to RNS. According to her, Russian cheese occupies 80% of the assortment in any food store. "Before the sanctions, it was 40%," she added.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Russian imports of cheese decreased by 33% during the first nine months of 2016. In 2013, the share of imported cheese in Russia was 58%, and it fell to 19% in 2015, said Martynenko.

Cheese consumption in Russia also dropped over the past two years. According to Martynkenko, it decreased by 16%, down to 640 thousand tonnes. "This does not mean that people eat less, it means people don't want to buy this cheese in Russia. It is possible that they bring it from abroad," he noted.

According to him, the cheeses that are impossible to replace, like Parmesan and brie, contributed the most to the market decline. For these types of cheese, he said, "it's not just a shortage, it’s that they are not available at all."

At the same time, Martynenko notes that there is a rise in demand for fresh cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta. The entire cheese market in Russia fell by seven percent in 2015, while the market for fresh cheeses increased by 13%.