Snacking is becoming an increasingly important part of the food culture in many western European countries, but in Russia it is still a relatively new phenomenon, with just a fraction of the brands available in other countries currently on sale there.
But according to a recent report from analysts Market Advice, the growth in the range of products available to Russian snackers has expanded rapidly in recent times, with particular emphasis on value-added products, and the market growth is showing no signs of slowing.
Just six or seven years ago there were just a dozen or so companies in Russia involved in snack production, but demand has grown so fast that there are now hundreds of producers, both large and small, operating there. And this does not include the numerous western producers exporting their products to Russia, who have seen an opportunity for growth in Russia which is not offered in many of the mature markets elsewhere in Europe.
The economic downturn which gripped Russia in the late 1990s meant that many imported products suddenly became far too expensive for the majority of consumers, according to Market Advice. While this clearly meant that volumes dropped in the short term, it also acted as a spur to domestic producers to expand - or indeed begin - production of snacks, with knock on effects in the longer term.
Domestic producers were able to undercut imported products in terms of cost, and benefited from weak market positions for almost all imported snack products with the exception of potato chips. By the end of 2000, output from Russian domestic snack producers was back to pre-crisis levels, although the market as a whole remained smaller than in 1998 as a result of lower imports.
But the proliferation of domestic producers also led to a broadening of the number of products available, many of which had a distinctly Russian flavour. Rather than simply competing with imported products by producing the same kind of snacks at a lower cost, Russian producers also launched a number of products not available elsewhere and designed to meet local consumers' tastes.
These products include rusks, dried fish products (called vobla in Russian), dried squid products and snacks based on sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Rusks and sunflower seeds were not available on the Russian market prior to this period, but they proved phenomenally successful, and in just a few short years have become mainstays of the Russian snack market.
Savoury snacks such as chips, nuts, seeds, rusks, popcorn, muesli or the dried fish and squid products, dominate the market, with sales of around 88,000 tons in 2001, of which chips alone accounted for 40,000 tons. Nuts were the second most-popular item with sales of around 14,500 tons, followed by rusks with 13,500 tons - a particularly impressive performance for a category which did not even exist five years ago.
Estimated figures for 2002 show that the Russian savoury snacks sector has continued to grow strongly, with total volumes of around 114,000 tons, of which two-thirds was produced by local manufacturers.