How One Company Wants To Quench Russia's Thirst For Soda

A nation's soft-drink habits can speak volumes about its culture, The New York Times wrote in 1964, contemporaneous with the USSR's launch of a soft drink known as "Kvass." Kvass is a fermented Russian beverage made from black bread, malt, and sugar. Fizzy and brown, it resembles Coca-Cola, which was, then, still more than a decade away from entering a Russian market that was all but closed to Western businesses, per New World Encyclopedia. Indeed, the commercialization of the cola-like beverage during this time known as the "Khruschev Thaw" (which, as the name suggests, was characterized by a gradual opening up of the USSR) did appear to foreshadow perestroika, or restructuring.

Coca-Cola's entry into the Russian market occurred in 1979, alongside preparations for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, according to Coca-Cola. It would take another decade before the first McDonald's location in Moscow gave Russians a taste of "America itself" (via VOA News), but by then, the breakup of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War was looming. 

More than 40 years later, the decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine in this year has set off a sequence of events that appear to turn back the clock (per AP News). March 2022 alone saw Coca-Cola and Pepsi, along with other companies, withdraw their business from Russia, per Reuters. Now, perhaps predictably, one Russian beverage company is trying to fill the void.

Cola Chernogolovka is the Russian soda brand to watch

Chernogolovka is a food and beverage manufacturer that's been selling soft drinks to Russian fast-food restaurants (including KFC and Burger King) since April, in the wake of American companies leaving the country in protest of Russia's military aggression in Ukraine (per Reuters). More precisely, as Chernogolovka's CEO, Natalia Sakhnina, told Reuters in an interview, "We were, are, and will be the main Russian producer of drinks."

The Russian soft drink market has been up and down in recent years, with revenues as high as $12.45 million in 2021 and projected at $8.78 million for 2022, per Statista. Chernogolovka expects, over the next two years, to saturate 30% of that market with its beverages, including Chernogolovka Cola. But it's far more ambitious than that. "We hope and are working on gaining absolute leadership in the Russian market," Sakhina told Reuters. The upstart company's primary competitor would appear to be Ochakovo's, a beer manufacturer that launched three soda brands in May, per Refresher.

Apparently, Chernogolovka has been steadily increasing its volume and capacity over the course of 2022, with plans to build a 430,556-square-foot plant. Construction is expected to continue through at least March 2023. In the meantime, as existing Coca-Cola inventory in Russia dwindles, Vkusno & tochka or "Tasty and that's it," the Russian successor to McDonald's, has opened about 50 locations and is focused on identifying a new soft drinks supplier (per Reuters). Will it be Chernogolovka? Only time will tell.