Barry Callebaut has opened a "chocolate academy" in Russia in a bid to build relationships with potential local customers and strengthen its business in Eastern Europe.

The academy, based in Chekov, near Moscow, offers a range of seminars, demonstrations, theoretical courses and practical workshops aimed at artisans and culinary professionals.

"The Russian chocolate market shows a shift in consumer preference towards high-quality premium chocolate. Through our courses at the Chocolate Academy we can help our artisanal customers to create new and exquisite taste experiences for consumers," said Russian pastry chef Edward Lebedev, who will head the academy.

Barry Callebaut now has a network of 12 chocolate academies worldwide. A spokesperson for the company told just-food that this network is an important pillar of Barry Callebaut's long-term growth strategy.

"Our strategy is to educate professionals in markets with high-growth potential as to the uses of quality premium chocolate," the spokesperson explained. 

The Russian chocolate market offers the largest growth potential in Eastern Europe. Euromonitor has predicted the Russian chocolate confectionery market will grow by an average of 15.3% in value and 5.4% in volume per year between 2007 and 2012.
"We are on track to triple our sales in Russia within the next three years," Filip De Reymaeker, VP Eastern Europe at Barry Callebaut, added. "We see good demand from industrial and gourmet customers. Russia's middle class is expanding rapidly - also outside the urban centers of Moscow and St Petersburg. This is leading to a strong increase in the country's overall chocolate consumption."