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Are Russians finally ready for fish fingers?

One company is hoping that one of the world's favorite whitefish-based frozen foods can catch on in its home market.

Pollock harvesting firm Russian Fishery Company has invested time, money and research into serving the Russian consumer with new branded products, but its latest plan is perhaps its most ambitious yet, offering a new option almost unknown to most Russian consumers: fish fingers.

While the humble fish finger might not seem like a culinary leap for most consumers, it’s a product Russians simply have no experience with. If Russian Fishery is successful in getting that to change, however, it could open up a massive new market for domestic producers.

“We’re targeting a younger audience,” Russian Fishery Marketing Director Pavel Buslakov told me in St. Petersburg last month. “Our challenge is how to get potential customers to understand what the product is, how you can serve it, and the health benefits it brings.”

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Like everywhere else, Russia has a share of “hipster” 25-45 year old shoppers that are eager for new flavors and new ways of eating. These consumers also have the same demands as others in that age bracket around the world: they want to know their food’s provenance and want clean-label ingredients. They’re concerned about antibiotics and want to know their food is healthy and safe.

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A product like fish fingers can tick all those boxes.

“It’s ambitious,” Buslakov said of the project, “but there is no other way to get Russians to begin eating pollock without offering them something new. The first step is to enter the shops, and then from there we hope people will share their positive experiences.”

If successful, the product may prompt other pollock companies to launch breaded products on the market. The company has already seen others launching similar retail products to their block offering, which Buslakov says is not a threat, but a benefit.

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“Everybody is happy with us pushing first, and when they start seeing that success, it’s great if they follow us,” he said.

Though the change from commodity to end-use product is a difficult one for most harvesting companies to make – especially with rising block prices and a depreciating ruble – the government is incentivising suppliers with tax breaks for domestic sales, which is encouraging Russian Fishery to take risks in pursing other ideas beyond the fish finger.

“We’re just beginning product development,” Buslakov said. “We have a lot of ideas and requests, and we think there’s a niche for branded innovative products on this market.”

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