Russia is the largest consumer market in Europe and nearly 75 percent of the population lives west of the Ural Mountains. Russian consumers are predominantly urban. Almost 25 percent of Russia’s 146 million people live in cities of over one million. Moscow, with 12.4 million inhabitants, is the commercial capital with an average per capita income that is almost two times higher than in other Russian cities, and four times higher than in rural areas. St. Petersburg, with 5.3 million inhabitants, is the historic and cultural capital with the main seaport on the Baltic Sea. Together, the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are considered to be “trend-setters” and serve as the main gateway for nationwide distribution. Notwithstanding limitations in disposable income, Russian consumers, especially in urban centers, are increasingly sophisticated in searching for quality and value; however, six years of economic sanctions have driven Russian consumers to economize and reduce expenditures on expensive imported products.
In March 2014, 31 countries, including the United States, imposed financial sanctions on Russia for violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia responded by imposing its own countersanctions, banning the import of many agricultural products from countries that applied economic sanctions against them, including the United States. These sanctions are valid until the end of 2020. The list of prohibited products includes meat and dairy products, fish, vegetables and fruits, nuts and salt. Subsequently, it excluded seed material, fish fry, dietary supplements and vitamin complexes, lactose-free milk and dairy products, raw materials for the production of baby food. As a result, domestic agricultural production in Russia has grown by 30 percent since 2014. The policy of the Russian government is generally aimed at reducing dependence on imports and stimulating the export of Russian grain, meat and processed products.
While imports of consumer goods have declined by more than 35 percent since 2014, Russia continues to rely on foreign supplies of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, beef, fish, cheese, wine, spirits, food ingredients and semi-finished products, including condiments and snacks. Many imported goods are now supplied by countries that are not subject to Russian countersanctions (Republic of Belarus, Turkey, China, Brazil, Ecuador, South Africa, and Argentina). However, even in the face of many challenges, non-sanctioned products from Europe and the United States are in demand and are trusted by the Russian consumer, creating business opportunities in niche market segments. In 2019 Russia imports from the U.S. were $426 million.