Russian Ribs

David Russell, Managing Director at the Russell Partnership, recalls the company’s recent work at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games

Ski Cross, Slope Style, Half Pipe and Women’s Ski Jumping…all events that are evolving the face of the Winter Olympic Games and reinvigorating interest throughout generations of people from all corners of the globe. We were fortunate enough to drive the strategic food planning for Sochi 2014. The countdown for us began before completion of the London 2012 games. Since then, multiple trips to and from Sochi have allowed us to witness the huge investment and rate of development achieved 

The sub tropical micro-climate with a mountain backdrop made for an impressive setting. It could easily take you half an hour to walk from one side of the park to the other, and it took 1.5 hours from the coastal cluster to reach the mountains. The $50bn price tag does seem extreme, however when you take into account the tourism infrastructure development and future event legacy, it does seem slightly easier to stomach.

Sochi city is much like other coastal European towns except at over 90 miles long, it is longest city in Europe! In the Krasnodar region, construction and food are the two main industries outside of tourism and the latter focuses on production of fruits and vegetables, tea, honey, fish and poultry. This was useful in our planning phases to develop the use of food with local provenance and also subsequently reducing the impact on the environment for transportation costs. Working with local farmers and food suppliers was key.

The traditional Russian food focused on a number of different categories. Boiled meat and vegetables, hot and cold soups, dumplings and fish are traditional dishes, particularly in Sochi. The concessions at the events were mainly takeaway, comfort food such as chicken kebabs, fresh crepes and soups, with a little more variety in the coastal cluster with less mobile food outlets and more restaurant locations with popular international fare.

From our methodology developed for the London 2012 games, we aimed for a locally focused strategy. Initially, we modelled the optimum space, revenue, cost and customer experience to deliver the blueprint of the strategy. Once completed, these plans could be shared among the partners delivering catering whom had been selected based on local partnerships, experience and the ability to work within the food strategy framework based on using local food sources and delivering great customer choice. There were some unique challenges to take into account when developing the planning stages, access and supply chain into the mountains, the variety of food requirements for spectators sitting in the cold for long periods of time, hospitality skill levels, major event experience and international corporate desire to work in Russia.

Operationally, the games were well organised with exceptional security and fantastic atmosphere with all nationalities welcomed and integrated well. The trains, even though efficient and brand new, turned out to be rather slower than planned. Safety, once on board, was good but what I failed to realise was the huge gap between the platform and the train so a visit between the train and the tracks was inevitable. With only my hand protruding from the gap, a ‘bear-like’ Russian weightlifter came to my aid, pulled me out and patted me down. Two broken ribs made for an eventful day! So anyone visiting Sochi, please mind the gap… 

Many lessons have been learnt from working on the Winter Olympic project, not least of all the cultural differences between the UK and Russian ways of knowledge transfer. At times, this creates a block to free-flowing information, overcome by investor time, working on relationship building and of course the occasional shot of vodka over dinner. Russian business is based on relationships – and once developed and trusted, progress happens fast.

So with the closing ceremony behind us and writing this from the west rather than east side of the Black Sea in the ‘under construction stadium’ of Besiktas, Istanbul, we are now looking forward to Rio 2016 and steering what will surely be the largest of beach parties imaginable in Copacabana.

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