Consumers Accessing Foreign foods online in Russia

How Russians prepare their food may change in the near future, as a result of a loophole in the restrictions against imported foods in the country. Consumers can access foreign foods online in Russia, offering a small but significant opening in the embargo against foreign groceries. However, it remains to be seen whether this will result in a boon for foreign food exporters. Online grocery shopping in Russia is still a relatively niche industry, much as it is in the United States, and over the past year Russians have adapted to cooking with exclusively homegrown products. Nonetheless, this opening offers Russians the opportunity to access some foreign foods for the first time since the embargo was put in place.

The manner in which Russian consumers would go about ordering foreign foods online is more convoluted that one might assume. Rather than order food items directly from foreign websites, consumers typically use an intermediary such as Shopfans, a company that facilitates purchases on U.S. websites. Shopfans plans on initially providing access to non-perishable foods from the U.S., as the company is not expecting a surge in sales of foreign foods. The food embargo and Russia’s economic difficulties have weakened the market for online grocery shopping, which paled in comparison to other online industries even before the downturn. On a positive note, the lower volume of orders does not mean Shopfans has lost active customers en masse, and the company has roughly 100,000 clients in Russia.

Effect on online recipes

Online orders of groceries may be a nascent industry in Russia, but using the Internet to search for recipes is extremely popular. One of the most preeminent recipe websites, Allrecipes.com, has taken advantage of this trend by opening a Russian language site at Allrecipes.ru. The Russian site has proved to be a key resource over the past year as Russians turn to the Internet to search for creative ways to use limited ingredients. The site is also tailored for the Russian market, with recipes that would normally make use of items that are difficult to find in Russia using substitutes instead. The site may see further traffic as a result of the relaxation in the import restrictions, as Russians look for ways to incorporate having limited access to foreign foods in their daily meals.

The foundations of Russian cuisine can be traced back to the meals typically enjoyed by peasants, and the most popular Russian recipes tend to make heavy use of products that can be grown with relative ease in European Russia. Potatoes, for example, are extremely popular, as are dishes incorporating beets, cabbage, and onions. The most popular meats tend to mirror those in the Western world, and grains are common as well, though buckwheat and rye are more prevalent than in Western cuisine.

The restrictions on imported foods have not lessened Russian interest in recipes incorporating foods more commonly found outside Russia. This could lead to an increase in Russian online food shopping, as consumers take advantage of the aforementioned loophole to procure specific foreign ingredients.

Eggplant

An excellent example of the continued popularity of foreign recipes is the interest in eggplant. Eggplant is not unheard of in Russia, but it is not used in many domestic recipes due to its limited use as a crop (eggplant grows best in warm, sunny climates). However, Russians are still interested in how to incorporate the fruit in their meals. Statistics from Yandex.Wordstat show that there are nearly 200,000 searches a month for “eggplant recipes.” The next most popular search using eggplant is “eggplants in the winter,” which shows a clear interest in gaining access to a crop that is impossible to grow in most of Russia during the winter. Russians have also demonstrated an interest in using eggplant with more popular domestic crops, as “eggplants with tomatoes” is another popular search.

stuffed eggplant

Pumpkin

The interest in pumpkin recipes in Russia is an excellent example of how Russians have adapted crops more popular in foreign cuisines to their own. Though pumpkins are grown in Russia, most Russians have only in recent years begun incorporating them into recipes, as the native North American gourd is far more popular in the U.S. and Canada than elsewhere in the world. There are 170,000 searches for “recipes with pumpkin” every month, and some of the most popular searches for pumpkin recipes are those that incorporate it into popular Russian foods. For example, “porridge/hot cereal with pumpkin” and “pancakes with pumpkin” are some of the common pumpkin searches.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie for Thanksigiving Ready to Eat

American meals

Outside the realm of just the crops using for making dishes, there appears to be some popularity among Russians for learning how to make traditional American dishes. There are almost 60,000 searches a month for one of the most visibly American cultural exports, “hamburger.” Russians appear to be interested to some degree of learning how to make hamburger meat themselves, as “hamburger recipes,” “how to make hamburger,” and “hamburger at home” all have thousands of searches a month. Meanwhile, “fried chicken” attracts nearly 20,000 searches a month, while “corn bread” and “chowder” draw in thousands of searches as well.

Close up of the fresh hamburger with french fries, fresh tomato and lettuce in background.