Russian entrepreneur takes healthy food message to UAE

Elena Shifrina is the brains behind BioFoodLab, which manufactures wholesome and additive-free snack bars

Elena Shifrina was working as a model when she said she decided to do "something more" with her life.

So she studied business and worked in sales and logistics before returning to business school for a second time. It was there where Ms Shifrina, who is from Russia and won the Forbes Russia Entrepreneur of the Year Award, came up with the idea for BioFoodLab, which makes healthy snack bars that are free of additives and preservatives and consist only of fruits, nuts, berries and spices. Here she talks to The National about how she devised the idea and why she decided to enter the UAE market.

What gave you the idea for Bite?

I came up with the idea while studying at the Skolkovo Business School. During an internship in Boston, I became really inspired by the lifestyle of local residents – their morning runs and the accessible healthy food. I realised that this was something that I really missed in Russia at the time. So I gathered together a team of like-minded people and in 2012 we created our company, BioFoodLab. Our first product was a healthy fruit and nut bar, Bite. It is 100 per cent natural, nutritious and tastes great. Initially, we had five different flavours in our product line. Now we have 11. Another major project is Bitey, which was inspired by my kids. I don’t buy them snacks with added sugar and chemical additives. I wanted kids everywhere to have the opportunity to eat right. I also wanted to make sure that we offered the most colourful and interesting product possible because kids always go after the brightest-coloured, most unusual sweets in the store. Our product line includes snacks for kids of all ages.

How did you develop it?

We develop all our technologies and recipes in-house. All our production is based on a special technology of vigilant production, which allows us to preserve all the useful properties of our ingredients without adding any preservatives. We have our own factory with 24-7 quality control.

What sort of research did you do into the market in Russia before you launched Bite? And what did it tell you? 

Initially, we held a study and the result was exactly what you would expect. Foreign producers had an 80 per cent share of the Russian natural-bar market. But the niche was developing actively, with growth rates of about 4 to 6 per cent per year. This trend is continuing today. Healthy living, fitness, proper nutrition – the number of trends related to keeping up a healthy approach to your life and your body is growing fast in Russia and will only continue to do so in the future. We’re constantly analysing the market and studying global trends and experience.

What sort of challenges did you encounter in founding the company?

At the very beginning, we had a huge problem. We learnt quickly that there wasn't suitable equipment in Russia to produce and package our healthy bars. Lots of production lines of varying capacity levels were available in Moscow but none of them could do what we needed them to do. So we had to purchase all our equipment ourselves. Now we have our own international-standard factory.

How big is the healthy food industry in Russia?

The healthy-food market in Russia is large, as you would expect of a country with a population of upwards of 146 million, and expanding rapidly. In 2014, BioFoodLab had a 4.3 per cent share of the healthy-snacks market. Our market share has tripled since that time. Market growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future due to the popularisation of urban sports in the country. BioFoodLab actively supports efforts to develop sports nationally. We’re a Nike partner and were also the official snack of the Moscow Marathon, the largest in Russia, as well as major tennis tournaments. We were also the first Russian firm to be the official snack of the London Marathon.

How many countries is your product available in?

Bite can be found in supermarkets across Russia at over 8,000 points of sale and in 14 other countries, including the UAE, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Lithuania, Kuwait and the United Kingdom. We also have an online store which delivers worldwide.

Why did you decide to enter the UAE market?

We have strong international sales and the UAE is a priority market for us because the population places a high priority on quality. Despite the oversaturated market, we offer a fantastic product, and that’s why it is in high demand and resonating with consumers in the UAE. We see the UAE as an excellent opportunity for us to expand our global distribution and to introduce unique healthy snacks to this vital market.

What plans do you have for the UAE market?

Our plans include growing our presence in the UAE and potentially opening production in the country. For now, all the products we export to the UAE are produced at our facilities in Moscow. BioFoodLab products can be purchased at various gas station chains in the UAE, including Adnoc, and Eppco shops and kiosks.