Sunday, May 27, 2018

Moscow Blocks What Could Be Remarkably Successful Regional Brands, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – There is no such brand as “French wines,” “Czech beer,” or “Italian meat products,” Fyodor Krasheninnikov says. Instead, the brands in each case are based on regions within those countries.  But Moscow, given its centralist myopia, has never been willing to allow the emergence of internationally attractive regional brands.

            Nor is there likely to be a change in that unless there is a change in the political system, the Russian commentator says. This isn’t because it is impossible to prepared such products and it isn’t entirely because of the lack of funding. The problems are much more fundamental (

            “Anyone with even the slightest interest in brands” knows that there are wines from various regions of France, beers from various parts of the Czech Republic, and meats from various sections of Italy and that it is these regional variations that attract customers around the world, Krasheninnikov says. 

            Unfortunately, the powers that be in Moscow don’t understand this or why promoting such brands would be a good idea because they are trapped in the view that “in our united Russia … any attempts to distinguish oneself even in a purely symbolic fashion can end with criminal charges.”

             This is the first problem those who would like to promote regionally based brands in Russia face. The second arises from it: history and continuity.  Regional brands grow out of regional identities. People travel to Bourdeaux for wines, but it is hard to imagine them travelling to Bashkortostan for honey.

It might be possible for present-day Kaliningrad “to create a powerful brand as the chief beer-brewing region of Russia because in the heads of millions of Russians lives the mythology of ‘German beer.’”  But “’Visit the city named for M.I. Kalinin’ and ‘Visit ancient Koenigsberg’ are two very different invitations.”

            Moreover, Krasheninnikov continues, “between ‘the beer of East Prussia’ and ‘the beer of Kaliningrad oblast’ lies a gap in meaning which will not be filled by billions of rubles.”  Indeed, today, there is no Tilsit cheese being produced in Kaliningrad because there is no Tilsit; there is only Sovetskoye.

            This is just “a typical example of why in Russia it is impossible to revive even well-known product brands let alone speak about new ones.”

            But it is not just a question of names: Vologda might have been able to produce remarkable butter if it had been able to escape the destruction of collectivization but of course that wasn’t possible, Krasheninnikov says. After the homogenization that Soviet policy produced, it is hard to revive a sense of regional distinctiveness.

            And these two problems lead to a third, “the most important,” the commentator says. And that is this: “for a product to become an international brand, it must be really unique and high quality, it must have its own long history of quality and popularity” in the region where it is produced.

            “Before parmesan cheese, Parma ham, or port wine became patented as brands, they already were popular, in demand and actively supported… Regional specialities of Italy or France first achieved unqualified success in their own internal markets and then advanced to the global level.”

            Russia has brands but not the kind of local brands that have won success for other countries.  “Our enormous country,” Krasheninnikov says, “must learn to be diverse, must permit local markets to develop in various ways so that in various regions will appear really unique local brands.”  

            “Under conditions of total unification nothing will emerge,” he continues.  Soviet brands, produced in “thousands of faceless factories will never become any brands” of the kinds that have worked for others.

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