Drinking-in Russia & Ukraine

Bord Bia’s Sectoral Manager for Drinks Denise Murphy has just returned from a visit to Russia - where the Irish Food Board hosted an Irish Drinks Expo at the Irish Embassy in Moscow - and Ukraine. She talks to Drinks Industry Ireland about her trip.

Irish companies showcased their wares to 35 Russian importers and distributors recently at the Irish Embassy in Moscow.

The showcase included five premium gins: Dingle, Gunpowder, Mor, Listoke and St Patrick’s, while Irish Whiskey was represented by Teeling and Gortinore.

Boyne Brewhouse showcased its beer and Avondhu also introduced its cream liqueur to Russia too at the event.

“The Russian trade attendees were impressed by the dynamism of the Irish drinks category and initiated relationships that evening which we expect will develop into trade partnering in the near future,” she tells Drinks Industry Ireland.



The following day Denise travelled to Kiev with Alla Barinova, Bord Bia’s Market Manager for the region, to explore the potential for Irish exporters there.

“We focused our study on the influencers within the market,” she says, “Our first meeting took place with Dmitri Sidirenko, renowned wine & spirits sommelier based in Kiev. Dmitri gave us a comprehensive overview of Kiev’s drinks trade and a briefing on trends in the market.”

Denise took a look at Whiskey Corner, a super premium whiskey-led restaurant in western Kiev, where she met Oleg Koslovski, probably one of the youngest sommeliers on the scene – and yet the most knowledgeable, she says.

“I say ‘whiskey-led’ because in Kiev the trend is towards specialisation within the restaurant trade,” observes Denise, “The high-end restaurant will specialise in a specific drinks category and appoint sommelier(s) with advanced education in that category to draw the connoisseur to the restaurant. It’s an interesting approach and certainly seems to be quite successful judging by the brisk trade we witnessed in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.”

Skipping in and out of small – and not-so-small – retail outlets, she stopped at The Good Wine Shop which belies its name as it’s a speciality food and drinks shop with a difference; despite advance research, she was incredibly impressed with this retailer. One of a chain of three in Kiev, this outlet carried the most comprehensive range of Irish whiskey she’d seen in her travels and when she met with the category manager he was hungry for more. But he also expressed impatience at the length of time he has to wait for the new expressions he hears are coming, stoically adding, “But what’s worth tasting is always worth waiting for”.


Kiev’s on-trade trends

The speakeasy model is alive and well in the on-trade in Kiev and thanks to the helpful people she’d met, her party was armed with a list of appropriate targets.

The delegation met with people at the coalface, the bartenders and mixologists, to get a better understanding of the behavior of the drinking public in Ukraine and the trends they’re recognising.

“Irish whiskey is certainly recognised as a premium offering in this market,” she says, “It’s one product which did not suffer from the economic crisis on a sustained level.

“Sales of Irish whiskey most certainly took a hit in 2015, a significant one at more than 13.5%” she explains, “however unlike other categories it recovered almost 10% of the fall in 2016 and looks set to exceed 2014 consumption levels in 2017.

“According to IWSR, as in many developed markets, the cocktail culture in Ukraine is developing fast. Ukrainian bartenders are becoming known worldwide and Ukrainian venues outside Kiev are beginning to employ professional mixologists. In turn, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about differences between types of rum, tequila, etc.

“The instability in Ukraine is, in some cases, having a positive impact on the alcohol market. People are looking for positive experiences and so are going out more in order to relax. People see little sense in trying to save their disposable income as recent economic turmoil has so often seen most of its value wiped off.”

What impressed her most from her trip?

“If it’s possible to call ‘aspirations’ impressive, it would be the aspirations of the consumer to become connoisseurs,” she answers, “In all the venues we explored, there was no apparent over-consumption. Those present appeared to be savouring their experience and discussing each offering intensely.”

As to what she learned, it’s that premium positioning is the appropriate approach to take in these markets.

“Respect the end-consumer and provide them with what they’re asking for,” she concludes, “The Ukrainian consumer appreciates quality and is prepared to pay for it. However, in a country struggling to save its economy, the niche will be small for the foreseeable future.”


Sign Up for Drinks Industry Ireland

Get a free weekly update on Drinks Industry trade news, direct to your inbox. Sign up now, it's free