Thanks to the rich soil of its steppes, Ukraine has long been known as "Europe's Breadbasket." But it appears that the recent turmoil affecting the country may impact this year's Ukrainian wheat harvest, which is expected to be down ten percent from last year. Reports the Kyiv Post:
Political turmoil, currency fluctuations and loss of territory will prevent major Ukrainian grain producers from enjoying another banner year. Analysts expect the grain harvest this year to reach 54-56 million tons, 12 percent down from last year’s record of 63 million tons.
Statistics do not include forecasted Crimean yield figures because Russia has annexed the peninsula.
Indeed, losing a large swath of fertile territory can certainly have an impact on a country's agricultural output. Being next door to a threatening and belligerent neighbor can also make things tough, as the Registan blog points out in a very interesting post on how the Ukraine crisis is affecting that country's agricultural sector:
When Turkey's parliament last summer passed a new law that curtailed when and where alcohol can be sold and also placed new limits on booze advertising, wine and beer manufacturers expressed concern about how these new restrictions might impact their bottom line.
Almost a year later, it would appear that this concern was justified. As the Hurriyet Daily News reports, the recent decision by Efes, Turkey's largest beer maker, to shut down one of its breweries, is highlighting wider difficulties facing Turkey's liquor industry. From the HDN's article:
Players in the sector, especially wine producers, are feeling the pressure of tough regulations as alcohol fights to survive in a tough environment.
Anadolu Efes, which has faced setbacks in its main markets in Turkey and Russia due to legal regulations, announced April 2 that it had decided to shut down its Lüleburgaz factory in the northwestern province of Kırklareli, four months after closing two breweries in Russia.
The beer market in Turkey shrank by 12 percent in 2013 after Turkey banned alcohol advertising and tightened restrictions on its sale. Price hikes in the market stemming from the rise in Special Consumption Tax (ÖTV) caused a further retreat in the company’s revenues. Beer makes up 90 percent of alcoholic beverage consumption in Turkey, which fell to just over 1 billion liters in 2013 from 1.12 billion liters in 2012.
Selim Ellialtı, the owner of wine producer Suvla, said the sector’s morale had long been hurt by the government’s strict regulations.
Rakhat’s “Kazakhstan.” Everyone wants a bite of Kazakhstan chocolate.
Foreign firms are lining up to take a bite out of Kazakhstan’s lucrative chocolate market. Beloved local chocolatier Rakhat is tempting a South Korean investor, while Turkey's Ülker has recently expanded its Kazakhstan candy operations.
In July, Seoul-based Lotte Confectionery announced plans to takeover Almaty's Rakhat, which EurasiaNet.org featured in March. The deal will see Lotte buy 76 percent of Rakhat's common shares for an estimated $157 million, valuing the company at $43.5 per share, a premium of around 30 percent on the current share price listed on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange.
The Koreans are not the only ones moving into the Kazakh market. Ülker, a Turkish packaged food producer that has been active in the country for over 10 years, recently launched a rival to Rakhat's best-selling “Kazakhstan” chocolate bar with its own take on, yep, “Kazakhstan” chocolate.
Rakhat, which has operated in Almaty continuously since 1942, features on its packaging a golden eagle flying under a yellow sun on a blue background, a theme resembling Kazakhstan's national flag. Ülker's packaging echoes Rakhat's and features Bayterek, Astana's iconic tower, on a blue and yellow background.
Bayan Sulu, another local chocolate manufacturer, has also tapped into the growing appetite for patriotic-looking candy with its own “Kazakhstanski” chocolate: Its wrapper features a map of Kazakhstan.
There's no better way to start and end a holiday in Turkey than with a drink, but it appears that some Russian tourists are taking things a bit too far. So much so that Turkish Airlines (THY) is considering making its Russia flight booze-free, according to the Russian Izvestia.
As the publication reported the other day (the photo used to illustrate the article says it all), a THY official told an Izvestiya reporter in Istanbul that the "drunken antics" of some Russian passengers has led the airline to consider taking this action. According to the article, in 2012 some 28 Russians were unruly enough to require police intervention. In the latest episode, a drunken Russian coming back from vacation in Antalya in late March got into a heated on-board argument first with his wife and the, less wisely, with members of a Russian soccer team who where heading back home from a trip to Turkey.
In recent months, THY's alcohol policy was in the news after several Turkish papers reported that the airline is considering ending alcohol service in domestic business class (there is no alcohol served in domestic economy class). This led to accusations that the state-run airline is bowing to the wishes of conservatives in the government of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). THY already does not serve alcohol on a few international routes, most of them to conservative Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia.
For now, it seems like the Izvestia article was meant to serve as a warning for any hard-partying Russians coming to Turkey to keep their drinking firmly grounded.
Eurasianet corespondent Marianna Grigoryan's recent piece about hypermarket chain Carrefour's struggle to break into the Armenian market because of a group of oligarchs' control over the food supply chain, provided a fascinating glimpse into how rotten politics can impact the most mundane daily chores, such as shopping and cooking. Interested in hearing more about this story, I sent Marianna a list of followup questions. Our exchange is below:
1. What made you think about reporting on this subject?
When nearly six months ago it was announced that Carrefour is coming to Yerevan, many people were curious to see if that at least will happen. In Armenia, where in many spheres there is the heavy existence of monopolies, Carrefour’s possible existence became some kind of question of principa. I was excited, as were many others, to have Carrefour in Yerevan as a competitive hypermarket next to Yerevan's existing two or three supermarket networks. But at the other side speculations started as expected and severak months later there is still nothing exact – only Carrefour's “Opening soon.” So I decided to write about the situation in light of a story I had already started about Armenian oligarchs. 2. In general, where do Armenians shop for their food?
In general in Armenia, especially in Yerevan, the biggest network of supermarkets-hypermarkets is 'Yerevan City,' which belongs to the pro-government oligarch Samvel Aleksanyan, a member of parliament who controls sugar, flour and other spheres of food import and dictates the “prices.” For example, officially 99.9 percent of sugar imports and domestic sales belong to his family. There are also two other supermarket networks but they have been mostly empty in recent months. 3. Do you think Armenians are looking for the kind of shopping experience a Carrefour would offer?
KFC shocked the fast food world last month when it announced that it had plans to start selling its fried chicken in Mongolia, which has mostly remained terra incognita for global fast food brands. The previous international fried chicken chain to have tried its luck in Mongolia was Kenny Rogers Roasters', whose gamble on the country lasted only a few years.
Home to Asia's fastest-growing economy, Mongolia may make sense as the Colonel's next target for international growth, but the Financial Times has an interesting column about why the Mongolian market is such a tough one to crack, especially for fast food chains. From the FT:
The crux for franchises in Mongolia has been the challenge of delivering – in what is after all a distant and isolated location – the consistency and quality control customers demand. Relying on a single railway line from China and the absence of other transport infrastructure raises the cost of essential ingredients and drives prices beyond levels familiar to western consumers.
Though Mongolia has 14 head of cattle per person, meat producer Just Agro is the only one with facilities that meet export standards. Russia banned imports of Mongolian meat following outbreaks of diseases such as foot and mouth. The ban was lifted in November 2011 and the Mongolian government has since been looking at ways of selling its meat as a high-quality, speciality product.
“I’m very sceptical that chain restaurants will be able to provide the same low-cost service they can in the US in these developing markets due to ingredient scarcity,” says [Matt Jones, an associate at Mongolian Investment Capital Corporation a local investment bank], who has yet to find a franchise interested in coming to Mongolia. “To obtain high-quality and consistent products, you have to pay a higher price relative to the rest of the market.”
As the United States winds down its military presence in Afghanistan, there are growing concerns in Washington about what a limited American role in the country might mean for security and for the viability of Afghanistan's still shaky governmental institutions.
One American agency, though, sees a bright future in Afghanistan -- for energy drink companies. In a report released this month by the Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, the USDA suggest that boom times may be ahead for foreign energy drink makers interested in entering the Afghan market. From the report:
Historically, Afghanistan has been a lightly caffeinated, tea-drinking country. Few Afghans drink coffee, but in recent years, many have developed a taste for energy drinks. Today, Afghans consume energy drinks everywhere and at all hours of the day: during the morning commute to work, in wedding halls, and at private dinners.
Energy drinks are sold everywhere – from street vendors to grocery stores to the finest restaurants. Exact sales figures and just how big the market is remains unknown. However, it is clear that the market for energy drinks is growing rapidly, and that a large number of new brands are competing for customers.
In a fascinating article from last December, RFE/RL offers more on the subject of how Afghanistan went from a "lightly caffeinated" society to a very heavily caffeinated one, reporting that even Taliban fighters are getting into the habit, imbibing energy drinks in order help them on the battlefield. But, as RFE/RL reports, some are calling for a ban on the drinks, both on religious and food safety grounds:
Like Turkey itself, the simit -- the round, sesame-encrusted bread ring that is a ubiquitous presence on the streets of Istanbul and most other Turkish cities -- is entertaining some very global ambitions. As CulinaryBackstreets.com reports, the humble simit is now taking on the mighty bagel in New York:
First, longstanding Istanbul baklava maker Güllüoğlu opened a branch in Midtown East and began selling freshly baked simit under the moniker “Turkish bagel.”
Now, a brand-new establishment with an entirely simit-based menu, Simit + Smith, has opened on the Upper West Side, with plans in the works to expand to the Financial District and elsewhere in the city. The eatery offers an array of sandwiches and sweet and savory snack items made with (purists beware!) three different types of simit: original with sesame, whole wheat with sesame or whole grain. Moreover, Simit + Smith seems to be squarely taking aim at the New York bagel market, noting on its website that “Simit have 2/3 the calories and much less fat than bagels or pretzels and contain all natural ingredients with absolutely no sugar.”
But will New Yorkers, notoriously wedded to their bagels, make the switch? The New York Daily News recently got on the story, polling a handful of top bagel connoisseurs about their opinions on simit, with reactions that ranged from enthusiastic to derisive:
In the end, history, nostalgia and Istanbulites love for cream puffs covered in goopy chocolate sauce were not enough to stand up to the forces of development that have been rapidly changing the face of Turkey's largest city. This week, after a drawn out legal battle, the classic and well-loved sweets shop Inci -- which has long claimed to be the birthplace of the profiterole -- was finally shut down and evicted from the historic building it was housed in, which is set to be "restored" and turned into a shopping mall.
The 70-year-old Inci was most likely not the place where the profiterole was invented and probably didn't even have Istanbul's best version of the dish, but the old-school spot was nonetheless an institution, a culinary touchstone for tourists and locals alike and one of the last operating links to an older Istanbul that's quickly disappearing. On the Culinary Backstreets website, Ansel Mullins offers this eulogy for Inci:
For many, the mention of İnci wells up a sentimental memory of the first taste of something sweet in this classic patisserie, but for us, as non-local students of the area’s heritage, it always represented the last of public emblem of Beyoğlu’s non-Muslim community, a culture long on life support. Though the history of İnci – established in 1944 by a Greek migrant from Albania named Lucas Zigoridis (aka Luka Zigori) – is more recent than the late-19th-century heyday of the neighborhood, it was still a part of that tradition.
In what may be a somewhat questionable act of architectural preservation, Baku's historic Sabunchu rail station, a Moorish-influeneced stone structure built in 1926, now has the distinction of the being largest fried chicken shack on the planet. Opened with great fanfare -- check out the this YouTube video from the restaurant's high voltage ribbon-cutting ceremony last month, -- this latest KFC outpost was reportedly built with an investment of 3 million euros, used to restore the railway station, which had been falling apart after years of neglect.
Considering the glee with which Azeri officials are bulldozing historic parts of Baku in order to make way for ever-taller buildings, the opening of this new monster KFC may ultimately be a good thing. Azerbaijan, that land of ironic twists, may be one of the few places in the world where turning a classic railway station into a fried chicken restaurant may actually be considered a step in a positive direction.