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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canada's Molson Comes to Russia

After a three-year search for the right local partners, Canada's famed Molson Ice beer and two companion brands finally have made it across the arctic glaciers to the Russian market.

"We have tried to come to Russia a couple of times, but we've had a hard time finding the right partner," said Molson agent Monte Kwinter, who was joined by Canadian Foreign Trade Minister Art Eggleton at the official Molson launching Wednesday.

"It took us some time to find people who had the right infrastructure for the distribution and the marketing of our beer," he said.

Molson finally teamed up with AWT International, a subsidiary of Austria's Creditanstalt bank, which handles local distribution of such Western brands as Johnson & Johnson and Post cereals.

"The first question exporters were asking when we wanted to export the beer to Russia was, 'How are we going to get paid?'" Kwinter said, adding that they found it reassuring that AWT is owned by an Austrian bank.

"We cover Molson for financial risks" and will take part in the "large" investments they are going to make here, said Maria Lazareva, AWT's marketing support manager.

Kwinter said he was not worried by Molson's comparatively late arrival here behind other imported beers such as Heineken, Corona and Beck's.

"We have a lot of things going for us," he said, adding that Molson's ownership of the Montreal Canadiens National Hockey League team should score it big image points in a country fanatical about hockey.

Kwinter, who also is a deputy in the Ontario provincial parliament, said Molson might sponsor a Russian team, but he did not disclose which one was under consideration.

While some importers worry about possible increases in Russian customs duties, Lazareva said Molson's main concern was that a large brewer like Heineken might start production in Russia, "which would make their beer much cheaper and hard for us to compete against them."

About 30 percent of the beer sold on the Russian market is imported, said Lazareva.

To compete against other premium imported beers, Kwinter said Molson will be competitively priced, from about $1.45 a bottle in supermarkets to about $4 in bars.

Although Molson now owns 40 brands of beer, it is going to test the Russian market first with its Ice, Canadian and Export brands.

Molson already has gained a solid foothold in at least one important outlet. The Moosehead Canadian Bar has substituted Molson brands for some of the European and Mexican beers it had been serving.

"It's quite normal that we serve our Canadian customers their Canadian beer," said the bar's sales manager, Sasha Gavrilov.