MOSCOW -- Baskin-Robbins, known for its 31 ice cream flavors, including such exotic varities as raspberry truffle and pink bubblegum, signed a $30 million deal Tuesday to build a plant in Moscow -- where only chocolate and vanilla are now generally available.
Despite the lack of flavors, locally produced Russian ice cream is considered among the best in the world. Baskin-Robbins thinks it can find a market by offering variety and alleviating shortages.
'We have no doubt our ice cream will be very popular with Soviet consumers,' Baskin-Robbins International President Michael Cohn said at the signing Tuesday in Moscow. 'We will help fill the excess demand.'
The Glendale, Calif., ice cream company -- which says it has made as many as 600 different flavors at one time or another but generally sells 31 at a time -- plans to introduce 10 flavors at first in Moscow and expand to more flavors and more cities.
Soviet citizens have a passion for ice cream. Muscovites consume about 80,000 gallons a day of vanilla, chocolate and the occasionally available strawberry. Downtown kiosks often draw lines and frequently run out during the summer months.
Yuri Abramian, the Russian director-general of the joint venture, would not say whether he thought Baskin-Robbins tasted better than local ice cream.
'They are both of very high quality,' Abramian said diplomatically. '(But) the Baskin-Robbins assortment is very broad.'
The Baskin-Robbins plant will be the company's largest facility and the joint venture hopes to produce 8 million gallons a year in the Soviet Union. The company estimates that given the chance, Muscovites would consume nearly double that amount.
'The Soviets love ice cream,' Cohn said. 'We're excited that soon they'll have a bit more choice to please their tastes.'
Cohn said the plant, to be built in a Moscow suburb in a joint venture with Baskin-Robbins International and the Republic of Russia's Ministry of Trade, should be finished within 2 years.
Nearly two years ago, Baskin-Robbins opened a shop in the Rossia Hotel selling ice cream it imported from Britain, but that store only accepts hard currency and is therefore not available to most Russians.
After the new plant is built, Baskin-Robbins plans to open several of its own stores in Moscow and also sell the ice cream in food stores and kiosks -- a departure from the company's general practice of selling only through franchises.
The ice cream will be sold for rubles. The company would not provide specific financial details of the deal -- including how much the ice cream would cost or how it planned to convert its profits to Western currency.
Since the ruble is not now convertible to hard currency, Western companies often accept Soviet products for export in barter deals to get profits out of the country.
The company plans to introduce some flavors specifically for the Soviet market, but would not give details.
Officials did say a special 'Gorba chocolate' would be introduced in the United States in July to honor Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. A Baskin-Robbins spokesman said the ice cream -- a combination of white and dark chocolate -- was not meant to have a political flavor.