Big Western brands are on the march into Kazakhstan, entering the market despite an economic crisis that is squeezing incomes and leading people to tighten their belts.
From coffee chain Starbucks to fast-food giant McDonald’s, some of the world’s most recognizable retailers are opening their doors in Central Asia’s richest country, seemingly confident they can sail through the economic doldrums, and turn a profit.
This bullish stance in a bear market may not be misplaced. When Starbucks opened two cafes in December in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest and wealthiest city, the line of coffee connoisseurs at one location stretched out the door. (That may have been the excitement of novelty, though. On a recent February weekday morning, one cafe had only a sole customer nursing a cappuccino).
McDonald’s selected the capital, Astana, to launch in Central Asia, on March 8 – over a quarter of a century after first opening in the former Soviet Union, in Moscow in 1990.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.