CENTRAL ASIA BLOG: Sanctions hit the Kazakh cat bowl

CENTRAL ASIA BLOG: Sanctions hit the Kazakh cat bowl
"Excuses, excuses!" / HareGovorittKrishna, cc-by-sa 4.0
By Kanat Shaku in Almaty. October 16, 2023

Kazakhstan, like the world over, is dealing with the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and resulting world supply chain disruptions. One outcome of such disruptions is the emergence of the ex-Soviet state as an increasingly important trade link between China and the West. The country’s Caspian Sea ports report unprecedented surges in cargo.

The cargo boom, however, does not mean that the shelves in Kazakh stores and supermarkets boast all the goods that they did pre-war. A number of goods, traditionally imported via Russian territory, have been lost, with only some replaced by local alternatives. One example is the disappearance of Listerine mouthwash from many supermarkets in Almaty. 

Another example is pet food, most particularly cat food. 

“Conspiracy against cats”

The sanctions-led economic war waged against Russia has impacted trade flows of various high-quality pet foods normally imported by Kazakhstan from European countries via Russian transit. Cyclical delays, for instance, are seen in the delivery of Germany-produced Leonardo cat food, described as “super premium” on the product's website.

“It feels like a conspiracy against cats,” one pet shop owner, Nadya, told bne IntelliNews. Nadya’s pet shop has lacked Leonardo for months on end. The difficulties mainly affect moist food for cats, though her pet shop has also seen sparse deliveries of dry food as well. 

Other, more common, renowned brands affected by the sanctions are Kitekat, Whiskas and Pet Chow. This has caused the prices of other brands to spike.

Pet-market-focused Russian consultancy ZooInform noted in its 2023 report on the Kazakh pet market: "Some premium pet food brands, such as Acana or Farmina, which had good demand and significant prospects in Kazakhstan not long ago, have practically stopped selling due to soaring prices, except for those stores that specialize in premium products, such as ZOOMARKET, for example. Price increases are one issue; more challenging are the supply disruptions. Even market leaders like Royal Canin and Pro Plan have not been able to avoid this."

ZooInform observed that much of the Kazakh pet food market was dominated by cat products as of 2023.

Historically, a significant volume of Western pet foods found on Central Asia markets, especially those of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, got there via Russian distributors within the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) trade bloc.

How to explain those maddening delays (Credit: Nicolas Fischer, cc-by-sa 3.0). 

The delivery issues became apparent almost immediately after the war in Ukraine began in February 2022. And they remain substantial. Feline patience with the human kind could be running out.

“Delays in deliveries have been taking place every month. They last around two weeks and sometimes take up an entire month,” said one pet shop owner. 

ZooInform cited figures on total trade turnover between Kazakhstan and Russia, noting that "in 2021, there was a record growth in trade turnover between Russia and Kazakhstan, increasing by nearly 35% to $25.6bn," and that "in 2022, the growth rate significantly slowed down to only 5% over nine months," while Kazakhstan's trade with the rest of the world, excluding Russia, grew by 44.4%."

Can’t look the moggie in the eye

PETFOOD Industry reported that, around August, Mars pet food brands reappeared in Kazakhstan, but at higher prices than previously experienced.

Delivery troubles have also dogged mass brands that dominate in the supermarkets, while wholesalers have limited pet food deliveries to specialised stores, the publication said.

Things might be looking up for the Kazakh pet food market, however. Local pet food manufacturers have started stepping up efforts to address the market gaps that leave cat owners unable to look their moggie in the eye, and not just gaps seen domestically but also some that are bothering neighbouring nations, PETFOOD Industry reported.

Moreover, Chinese pet food brands are now flowing into the Kazakhstan market, though some pet food trade efforts have been abandoned due to investor uncertainty in a volatile market.

According to Statista, “revenue in the Pet Food market [in Kazakhstan] amounts to US$287.7mn in 2023. The market is expected to grow annually by 4.7%.”

Another consideration is that demand for pet products in Kazakhstan might grow due to the relocation to the country of many Russian citizens who fled Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation for war and the deteriorating quality of life standards in Russia, according to ZooInform.