China-Russia Expo enhances trade, investment opportunities

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The rich aroma of coffee brought visitors to a corner of the eighth China-Russia Expo exhibition area in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, where Russian cream cakes are on display in the cake bar of the Alyonka Cafe.

"It is the first cafe that we opened in China's mainland, where consumers are already familiar with the Alyonka chocolate brand," said Evgeny Bazhov, general manager of United Confectionery (Uniconf) China subsidiary company, at the expo.

The expo's activities are being held in Harbin, the capital city of Heilongjiang, from May 16 to 21.

Over 5,000 overseas buyers registered at the expo and representatives from 44 countries and regions participated in the expo. The exhibition area spans 388,000 square meters, showcasing more than 5,000 products in over 20 major categories from 10 sectors.

"This time, we brought not just chocolate but coffee and Russian desserts. The cafe is located in the permanent exhibition area of Russian specialties," said Bazhov, who has rich experience doing business in China.

"With so many visitors, the expo is a sound opportunity to launch the cafe business in China. We plan to open 10 Alyonka cafes in Harbin this year. The city boasts a rich history of China-Russia exchanges and a high public recognition of traditional Russian food," said Bazhov in Chinese.

He said Uniconf is a leader in the Russian confectionery market. The company owns several well-established brands, including the chocolate brand Alyonka.

"China is currently the fifth largest export market for Alyonka chocolate, so there is still a lot of growth potential. In addition to the new business models such as cafes, the company has made a number of new products catering to the taste of Chinese consumers, such as chocolates with less sugar and high cocoa content," said Bazhov.

The expo, first launched in Harbin in 2014, coincided with the 75th anniversary of China-Russia diplomatic relations this year. According to the organizer, the expo features a significant lineup of Russian enterprises organized by Russia's Ministry of Industry and Trade.

"The expo is not only a celebration of the long-standing friendship and cooperation between the two countries but also an important platform to deepen cooperation and expand new opportunities," said Liu Chunsheng, an associate professor with the Central University of Finance and Economics.

Pavel Semerna, head of the Chinese office of the Russian company Belyov Pastila Manufacture, made his first trip to the expo. His company has brought the snack of apple cakes, mainly composed of natural fruits, to the expo.

"The Chinese market is dynamic and open, and the consumption potential of healthy food is huge," said Semerna.

His company has sought business opportunities by participating in various trade promotion events in China, such as the China International Import Expo. It has also used the online platforms of Taobao and Douyin to promote the sales. Currently, the company's products have appeared on supermarket shelves in over 20 Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou.

Zhang Dekun, chairwoman of Kunpeng Bio-Technology Co., Ltd., marveled expo visitors with the company's soybean-flavored ice cream, which has already been an "Internet celebrity" product in China.

She told visitors that "we have combined modern biotechnology with innovative processes to produce a wide range of soy-based foods." The soybeans are produced in the city of Heihe, about 600 km north of the expo venue.

Lu Guilan, director of Heilongjiang Jialand Russian Art Gallery, is an acquaintance of the expo. She said she has been collaborating with young Russian artists to exhibit and sell Russian paintings in China for many years.

"Oil painting collection requires a certain aesthetic ability. I saw a business opportunity to get to know potential customers at the expo," she said.

Russian tour guide Polina Mitina said many Russian exporters hired her to promote their products at the expo because of her Chinese language skills.

"I have been participating in the expo for a number of sessions, and I feel the expo not just provides business opportunities but also tightens the bond of friendship across the borders of countries," she said.

The host city of the China-Russia Expo alternates between the two countries. The previous expo was held in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in July 2023. 

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