It’s not difficult to find Belarusian products in Moscow: almost all the shops have separate shelves for Belarusian meat and dairy produce. “Our shelves emptied last year when sanctions were introduced and we were not allowed to sell European goods,” recollects the manager of Moscow’s major shop chain, Natalia. “We had to find new suppliers immediately. Our domestic businessmen were slow off the mark while Belarusians reacted immediately. Our customers show great interest in the products, they are very popular.”
It is however, only a small share of Belarusian products that can be found in the chain of shops. “The reason is that our produce has a small shelf life,” explains Sergey Troshin, who owns two shops selling Belarusian products. “Everything is made of natural ingredients, rather than using preserving agents which can be stored for ages.” According to the statistics, Belarusian-Russian turnover has fallen. Mr. Troshin explains the reasons, “In general, people now buy less, and this applies not only to Belarusian products but to all others.”
All-Union Exhibition of National Economic Achievements as a venue
Where else can Belarusian products be found if not at the Belarus pavilion of the All-Union Exhibition of National Economic Achievements? The beautiful building is crowded inside. Belarus-made products occupy spaces amidst the columns: among them are mannequins wearing bathrobes, traditional sarafan pinafores and dresses and stands of cosmetics. “Everything has risen in price in the shops and we are now turning to Belarusian products from abroad,” explains Muscovite Maria who has come to buy clothes.
Food stalls are also seen at the exhibition and have proved an extremely popular attraction according to the shop assistants. “It is mostly tourists who come to the Exhibition but there are also plenty of Muscovites. I was born in Belarus: our company tries to employ Belarusians as shop assistants. Not because of discrimination; our staff have grown up with these products and know them well. I can explain how each product, for example, is cooked. It’s saltison — a blood sausage which is very useful and tasty.”
Nostalgia over all-Union standards
Tents with fruit, vegetables and other treats are to be found near the Bagrationovskaya metro station, some way from the market itself. On enquiring where I can find Belarusian products, I hear an irritated shout, “You are all crazy for these Belarusian products! We are representing Mariy El and our produce is good too!”
A queue is normal for a small Belarusian shop located in the market. “A Krakovskaya sausage please as usual,” an elderly woman asks the shop assistant. “I also need a bottle of kefir.” This shop amazes with a wide range of goods and demonstrates true patriotism: flags are everywhere on the walls and shelves. The shop owner, Sergey, explains that he’s decorated the shop to his own taste. The customers love this as many view Belarusian goods as a sign of quality.
“I make purchases here because Belarusians have retained the quality of their products since Soviet times,” comments pensioner Zinaida who previously worked at a meat factory. “Our country has destroyed the All-Union Standards (GOSTs) while Belarusians have managed to preserve the taste of the past.”
Most of the customers interviewed mentioned this ‘taste of the past’ with nostalgia — saying that it reminds them of their childhood in the Soviet Union. The current retrospective trend towards the Soviet is benefiting Belarusian products.
The Zakroma Belarusi shop is decorated with a village fence and has a cat on the staircase. Its façade is truly unique and is well known among buyers and sellers. “People from all the surrounding areas come to us,” the shop assistant explains. “This is no surprise as the quality of our products is perfect. While on holiday in Russia and abroad, I could not eat anything: I’ve got used to the Belarusian quality. It’s not true that only elderly people buy from us. Many young people come, especially those with children.”
The range is rich and varied, including Belarusian beer, chips, milk products, canned and meat products and fresh bread. “Bread is taken out of the ovens in Belarus at 2am and we receive it at 2pm,” boasts the assistant, who considers that sanctions have not seriously affected the number of buyers but they have been influenced by the Rouble devaluation.
Last December, all the price tags were replaced as prices grew. However, in early 2015, the shop owner dropped prices slightly by 20-50 Roubles depending on the product.
By Nina Beroeva