Alexander Vorontsov: ‘We will face increased competition after the cheese embargo is up’

The entrepreneur from Tatarstan thinks that the Russian cheese industry needs a few more years for sustained development

The possible cancellation of the ban on importing cheese is discussed again in Russia. The ban was imposed eight years ago. The ambassador of Italy asked to lift the restrictions on parmesan imports first, then Burger King fast food restaurant chain turned to the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade asking it to cancel the food embargo on imported cheese. The company complained about the lack of Russian feedstock amid growing demand for cheese dishes. These proposals seriously concerned Russian cheese makers. So leading craft cheese maker in Tatarstan Alexander Vorontsov evaluated the consequences of the possible cancellation of the cheese embargo for the sector in a column for Realnoe Vremya.

“There wasn’t such a number of cheese dairies in Russia before the imposition of the embargo”

We make cheese ourselves, consequently, we don’t have such culture, a century-old history of cheese making as abroad. So we will face increased competition after the embargo is cancelled.

Therefore for a safety margin we need it to stay for a few years more. Five years are absolutely enough, at least for our dairy to polish all the recipes and make everything perfect. I think in five years most Russian cheese dairies will have enough power to effectively compete with European manufacturers.

Now we have a cheese dairy, we make 60 types of cheese and sell them across the country. Perhaps, we will keep working this way but with increased competition, and this will lead to a smaller profitability of the business. There wasn’t such a number of cheese dairies before the embargo, and with its appearance the idea of opening them came to people’s minds.

“Not the embargo but a big growth of the dollar rate influenced”

In fact, I think not the embargo but a big growth of the dollar rate influenced the development of the cheese making sector. It used to be 30 rubles, it reached 70. Consequently, all foreign cheeses almost doubled in value. While when the rate was just 30, it was unprofitable to make cheese. Foreign cheeses went up in price because of the devaluation.

Because of the weak ruble rate now, prices for foreign cheese are high, and we can sell our Russian cheese for the same prices. In other worse, not for a higher but the same or lower price. If the ruble suddenly gets twice as stronger, we will have to lower the prices twice. But at the same time milk will cost as much as it did, in rubles, therefore it isn’t profitable. I mean devaluation.

I think the demand in the Russian market hasn’t changed. It hasn’t probably changed in the last 10 years. The case is that a lot of Russian cheese dairies appeared, a natural handmade product appeared, such a miracle as Russian cheese appeared because in fact what is sold in grocery stores is a cheese product. And thanks to these changes, with the embargo and the ruble rate, hundreds of cheese dairies and interesting, quality products appeared in our country.

“Even what cows eat influences the taste of the cheese”

Milk that is used plays a very big role in cheese making. Consequently, the climate here and, for instance, in Italy differs very much. Cows have better conditions there, eat juicier grass or some certain food. In other words, even what cows eat influences the taste of the cheese, this is why certain types of cheese abroad are made during a certain period of the year. They consider even this. I mean cows eat blossoming grass in the summer — cheese with certain taste is made of milk, while this cannot work in autumn.

A lot turns on the feedstock, the milk. Here one should look for good milk. Not everything can be used as cheese feedstock. These are key difficulties. Even if we take a recipe and bring a foreigner in Russia, even a foreign technologist who will use the same recipe with no change, the cheese will anyway be a bit different because it is necessary to find good milk.

In any case bringing a foreigner here is an expensive way of cheese making. Our cheese dairy wants to make signature cheeses, we have a lot of our own recipes. We don’t want to make the same cheese, we want make another that is at least not worse and probably even tastier than the foreign one.

At the moment we sell in Russia, there is enough potential for expansion in our country. In other words, I haven’t considered selling cheese abroad. Perhaps, in a few years. Our motherland Russia is enough for us at the moment.

Alexander Vorontsov

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.