China warms up to frosty sweet treats from Russia
DAYTIME temperatures of 7 deg C did not stop Chen Xiaochen, 32, from buying ice cream on Tuesday in the north-eastern Chinese city of Harbin.
But it was not just any ice cream - the Russian-made confection costs 10 yuan (S$2), making it an affordable treat.
A Russian ice cream craze has taken off in China this year as trade between the countries got a major push, and Chinese consumers became more aware of products from their northern neighbour.
"I particularly like Russian ice cream, as it has a flavourful milk taste, strictly selected raw materials without any additives, and it's reasonably priced," Ms Chen said.
Before it was widely available locally, she and her friends used to order boxes of ice cream from Russia and have it shipped to the city.
The trend got an even bigger boost when Russian President Vladimir Putin gifted President Xi Jinping the frozen treat during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou on Sept 4 and 5.
After the summit, a lot more dealers made inquiries about importing Russian ice cream with the Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau of Manzhouli in north-east China, where the city borders Russia.
While it's too early to tabulate the effects of the presidential dessert diplomacy, import numbers have soared this year.
From January to August, the Chinese border port of Manzhouli imported 271.4 tonnes of Russian ice cream worth US$863,000 (S$1.2 million). This is an increase in volume of 267 per cent and a surge in value of 1,388 per cent, according to statistics from the bureau.
The ice cream is generally cheaper than premium brands available in China. One package of Russian ice cream, weighing 100g, is typically priced at 10 yuan. An 81g cup of Haagen-Dazs ice cream is 33 yuan.
Yu Wei, general manager of Epinduo, which specialises in Russian products, said his company has bought 14 tonnes of Russian ice cream this year, including several leading brands such as President, White Polar Bear and Soviet Union.
The company has seen sales grow rapidly. It is now netting in more than 200,000 yuan in sales revenues daily.
In the next three years, Epinduo plans to launch 300 stores nationwide and expand the sales channels of Russian products. Together with its e-commerce platform, the dealer aims at cumulative revenues of 30 billion yuan in three years.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK