Elena Shifrina realized that Russia didn’t have a snack that was vegan and healthy, so she decided to make her own. Born in a small town and, due to a health-conscious mother, Shifrina went vegan as a teenager and learned dedication and ingenuity through her career as a model before working for an oil company. While on an exchange program to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she realized the prevalence of healthy snack bars in America and made her own unique Russian version. With support from her husband, Shifrina began BioFoodLab, making what would become the successful Bite bars (which was chosen as the runner up in the Best On-The-Go Nutrition category in the Your Fitness Awards 2017). We decided it was time to talk to Shifrina to discover what makes her bars unique and how veganism is growing in Russia.
VegNews: While you took inspiration from American healthy snack bars, how did you make BioFoodLab unique to you and your culture?
Elena Shifrina: I realized that no one thinks like anybody else. You have to be two steps ahead of everybody else. We make the products like art. They shouldn’t just taste nice, but look great, too. Especially in this digital age.
VN: What is the female entrepreneurial scene like in Russia?
ES: It’s nice to be an entrepreneur here, especially a woman entrepreneur. There aren’t many women entrepreneurs. People have told me, though, that they were heading toward the corporate world, read my story, and then decided to follow their entrepreneurial pursuits. They’ve realized they only have one life, so they take responsibility for their life.
VN: What is the vegan scene like in Russia and Eastern Europe?
ES: There aren’t that many vegans, but it is definitely growing. More people are starting to think about the environment and what they consume. There are actually many vegan fitness bloggers that are contributing to the conversation, that are influencing many people. It’s becoming very fashionable.
VN: What does a day in your life look like?
ES: I wake up at 7 and from 7 to 9:30 I am with my children. That is the time of the day when I get to spend the most time with them. Then, from 9:30 to about 9 at night I am at work, but, thankfully, when I get home I get to spend about a half-hour with them before they go to bed.
VN: What is your favorite vegan meal to cook?
ES: I love galubtsi, which is like a cabbage spring roll. Traditionally, it has meat inside, but I put sautéed buckwheat and vegetables, then roll that up in the cabbage.
VN: What’s next for Bio Food Lab and its Bite bars?
ES: We are working on expanding our lines of Bitey bars, which is our children’s line, and our pouches with probiotics and vitamins line. We are also working on getting all of our products into more global markets. We are already in China, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and more, but we would love to be in even more countries. Also, of course, focusing on always innovating and refining what we already have and do.
Jarod Contreras is a vegan 18-year old ultrarunner who recently completed his first 100-mile race, and founder/host of the Touching the Trail Podcast and Touching the Trail website.
Photo courtesy of BioFoodLabs