Kazakhstan's taste for French cakes

By bne IntelliNews March 13, 2013

Clare Nuttall in Astana -

A French patisserie launched in Kazakhstan in 2011 has grown rapidly both at home and abroad. Initially serving Kazakhstan's French community, who sorely missed the croissants, baguettes and flans available on every street corner back home, La Tartine is now opening in countries from Georgia to the UK to Mozambique.

La Tartine was set up by a Kazakh and a French investor duo who had already brought brands including Yves Rocher to Kazakhstan. They brought in Matthieu Thorel, who had worked in the Kazakhstani food sector for two years, as director of the new business, and started by opening a takeaway in downtown Almaty in June 2011. The second outlet was opened in Astana a year later.

Thorel says the patisserie immediately proved popular both with expats and Kazakhstanis. "Whenever I land in France, I immediately go to buy a baguette sandwich and a flan - you can't get them in Kazakhstan. So opening a patisserie was a solution for us, and for the other French in Kazakhstan. Also, many Kazakhstanis have visited France and they appreciate our country's culture and its cuisine," Thorel tells bne. "We have experimented with different types of outlet. Our first project, in Almaty, was a takeaway street retailer. The second was at a shopping mall food court in Astana. We have observed the market, and next plan to open a cafe in Almaty."

Thorel notes that while the affluent cities of Almaty and Astana have numerous chain and private coffee shops, the French patisserie is a relatively new concept. The market is still far from saturation, and high-end shops and cafes do well among the monied elites of the two cities. "In our experience, everything in Kazakhstan is expensive, but not everything is good. We are not serving cheap products, but we are serving good products, with the ingredients imported from France at an affordable price," he says. "There is not a lot of competition yet. Although companies like Paul have now launched in Almaty, Kazakhstan is big enough for a lot of patisseries! It's a new business, and still growing."

New layers

Within Kazakhstan, in addition to the plans to open a cafe in Almaty, La Tartine is targeting the corporate market, and hoping to serve coffee and croissants at business meetings. Thorel is also one of the partners in Almaty restaurant La Grenouille. "There are a lot of opportunities in Kazakhstan, and it's easy to grow quickly," he says.

La Tartine's Kazakh origins have also provided the springboard for what is becoming a business with outlets in an eclectic range of cities worldwide. While La Tartine was created in Kazakhstan, branches have now opened in the British cities of London and Windsor, as well as Kyiv and Tbilisi. There are also projects underway in North America and Mozambique.

Explaining the geographic spread of the business, Thorel says: "Most of these have been opened by people we know. La Tartine is a project between friends, which means we keep the spirit."

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