Olivier ‘Russian’ salad, meat jelly, cabbage pie, and dressed herring are wonderful Russian holiday treats. But one gets tired of them after a while. You suddenly find you want something lighter, more elegant, more magical. How about some raspberry granola, a coconut yogurt or a banana-lemon panna cotta? These unconventional Christmas treats and much more can be bought at the Gorod-Sad chain stores launched by entrepreneur Darya Lisichenko, supporter of the keto diet and healthy lifestyle. Why is the healthy food market a good choice for business and how can fatty foods help us lose weight?
Tofu pate and chickpea dumplings
Psyllium, guacohummus, muffit — these words might sound like witchcraft spells to an untrained ear. A connoisseur would know, however, that psyllium is plantain husk, guacohummus is a vegan avocado paste, and muffit is a protein cake, perfect with fancy buckwheat tea. Gorod-Sad stores offer nut butter, cashew camembert, coconut curd, buckwheat milk, protein ice cream, zucchini spaghetti and other extraordinary products.
The company offers a lot of vegan food (vegetable meat cutlets, wheat sausage, tofu pates, and chickpea dumplings), but customers can also shop for regular chicken, fish, yogurt, or milk there. Vegan foods have special names, so as not to be confused with regular ones: coconut-based sour cream is smeVEtana, vegan kefir is VEfir (its price is about four times that of kefir from a regular supermarket).
The healthy food chain’s founder says her healthy lifestyle habits came from her own family, and for a good reason. Some of her family members had health problems and had to watch what they ate. Darya Lisichenko’s stepfather had diabetes and had to follow a special food plan. When Darya was a student at MGIMO, her second stepfather had a stroke. Later, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. That really brought health into focus at home, as an important and a very fragile component of daily life, and eating healthy was one of its pillars. Lisichenko organized a charity foundation to help stroke patients; she became interested in fitness and tried a variety of diets. Unfortunately, according to Darya, it was not easy to buy all you need for a healthy diet in Moscow.
“In 2014, all you could buy from delicatessen sections in supermarkets was dressed herring, fried chicken and salads heavily dressed with mayonnaise. It became worse with the anti-Russia sanctions, when many imported foods disappeared from the shelves. It was then that I had an idea to start my own healthy food stores with good deli options. That niche was free, as there was practically no competition,” Lisichenko says.
The situation is different now. Healthy foods are claiming an increasing share of the Russian food market. Departments with products for a healthy lifestyle have opened in many large federal chains; specialized online and offline stores are also emerging. According to experts, the global healthy food market is growing by about 10–12% per year and can reach $230 billion by 2025. People are ready to pay for better, healthier and cleaner food, but competition has also intensified. Innovation and proprietary technology are a must now.
Mushroom therapy and healthy mitochondria
Today, Darya is cooperating with Russian farmers as well as developing her own production. She is particularly proud of her natural almond milk with a short shelf life and coconut yogurt — these products have no analogues on the domestic market. One of the novelties at Gorod-Sad’s deli counters is its lunch combo boxes, cooked by the company’s chefs. Customers can pick them up at the store on their way to the office or order a delivery. The lunch menu includes chicken curry in coconut milk with vegetable funchose (RUR 490, or $6.40 a serving), red fish cutlet with shrimp and vegetable rice (RUR 420, or $5.50) and other healthy options. But there is something else, apart from selling healthy foods and using original names and recipes, that makes Gorod-Sad different from other stores — the company has its own lecture room.
“Gorod-Sad offers a niche product, so we focused on building a community first. This is actually important for a variety of businesses. How does one find followers and form a loyal audience? That’s the big question. Modern sales are all about benefit and communication,” Darya believes.
The Gorod-Sad Knowledge Center hosts talks by fitness coaches, dietitians, nutritionists and doctors. Some lecture topics may be quite unconventional, for example Mushroom Therapy (on medicinal fungi and popular types of mushrooms), Healthy Mitochondria (apparently, mitochondria may affect our mindset and thinking and depend on our diet) or Anti-Age Diet (which foods should be avoided after 40). At the Children’s Knowledge Center, parents can ask questions about children’s nutrition and parenting during free meetings with experts.
Those who don’t have time to listen to serious lectures but made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy and lose weight should try the extremely popular keto diet.
Keto diet for eaters exhausted by holidays
Darya Lisichenko believes that the healthy food market is one of the fastest growing in the world and the pandemic has, if anything, encouraged more people to adopt a conscious and informed approach to choosing what they eat. The main trends include vegan food (meat, fish and dairy alternatives) and quality food for keto diet fans. We pretty much know what vegan means but the concept of keto may be new to some.
The purpose of the keto diet is to minimize consumption of carbohydrates and increase the amount of fats thus triggering ketosis, a process of fast fat burning. You eat more fatty foods but still lose weight. Here is how dietitians explain this paradox: the keto diet destroys the reserves of glycogen in our bodies prompting them to look for new and more efficient sources of energy such as fats. The ketones generated by fat break down slower than glucose obtained from carbs; therefore, the sense of fulness lasts longer and helps eat less and lose weight.
“People are increasingly interested in the ketogenic diet. It is a major trend. Keto is good for building up energy. Those who have eaten a lot of “holiday foods” such as cakes and cookies will especially notice it. Keto with its high share of fats is appealing to Russians as we are used to eating tasty and nutritious meals. The keto products we have in our store are in great demand,” Darya comments.
The keto diet relies on a lot of fats. That does not mean eating only high-fat cottage cheese, cream, sour cream and nuts. Surprisingly, even donuts or muffins can be keto food. A keto donut contains only 1 gram of carbs and is made of almond flour and pistachios. A keto muffin is based on almond flour and cottage cheese. A New Year’s keto set by Gorod-Sad for RUR 4,900 ($65) includes a cod liver salad, a keto jelly, a liver loaf and a merengue swirl with berries and pistachios.
Darya has practiced veganism in the past but today she adjusts her diet depending on her goals and activity. Sometimes she only eats plant-based food but other times, she will go for meat and fish. Her favorite breakfast is eggs and avocado. Her favorite dinner is roasted veggies or a vegetable salad. Her favorite drink is matcha latte (a mix of Japanese green tea and coconut). The key is to be conscious about what you put in your mouth, she believes. Darya is happy that fast food is losing popularity and more teenagers are interested in healthy eating. They cook healthy and teach their parents the same.
The older generation does not push back too much, especially because healthy food is no longer boring and offers much more than water-based porridge or fat-free kefir. Although it is hard not to twist your tongue trying to pronounce trendy words like guacohummus. It may not be easy to remember that the super food called spelt is simply hulled wheat. One may also find it tricky to tell the difference between a muffin and a muffit.
By Natalya Sysoyeva