Russian reindeer conquer Western markets

Reindeer breeding accounts for 90% of the agriculture in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District in northern Russia. The industry’s export markets include Germany, Italy, Greece and Latvia. But producers are facing logistics problems trying to expand.

Reindeer have been the main source of income for the Nenets people for centuries. There are 600,000 head of the animals in the region.

But Russia has yet to develop the domestic market for reindeer meat. Today, all the produce is exported.

Most of the reindeer are privately owned, with only 28% belonging to agricultural cooperatives.

“We breed reindeers and hand them over to sovkhos or to the factory. We receive salaries twice a year, but we don’t spend it – we buy the food we need, and save the rest of the money,” reindeer breeder Maksim Khudi says.

One meat processing plant was built five years ago – when there was barely any demand for reindeer meat outside the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous district.

Now the factory has five shops and is receiving orders from other regions. Recently, the first lot of reindeer meat was sent to Germany.

Although producers say there's more demand outside Russia than inside – expansion is hindered by an age-old problem – transport problems.

According to Yamal Reindeers Plant director, Evgeny Amaltsev, the reindeers are in demand in Germany, Italy, Greece and Latvia, not forgetting some hypermarkets in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.

“But we can only use helicopters and winter roads. Soon the ice will melt and we won’t be able to work for a month. Logistics is our major problem,” Amaltsev stresses.

But manufacturers here remain optimistic for the future.

They're sure the label ‘Yamal reindeer’ – a sign of high quality and good value – is strong enough to keep the brand competitive on international markets.