Alyonka (Алёнка) is the market leader of domestically produced chocolate in the Russian Federation. The Red October factory began producing it as a 100g chocolate bar in 1966 by virtue of a government livestock subsidy. With a steady supply of high-quality, cheap milk, Red October produced delicious, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate at an affordable price (even today the same bar is available for just $2.50).
The Alyonka brand is centered around the heartwarming image of a chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed infant on the iconic wrapping, but it’s unclear exactly who the child is. Factory management couldn’t agree on the final design, so they held a competition through the Evening Moscow newspaper for the “face of Alenka.” Although rumors circulated that a photo of Stalin’s daughter won the competition, it is probable that the picture is actually of artist Alexander Gerinas’ daughter. In 2000, his daughter, Yelena, filed a lawsuit against the factory which demanded compensation for the use of her likeness. She lost the case.
The name “Alyonka” also has a history. It was named after the daughter of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. Her daughter was something of a celebrity herself, as she was the first child born to two parents who had both traveled to space. Thus, Alyonka chocolate symbolizes a time of great international strength for the USSR, a time when the USSR was firmly focused on the future, and a time of relative domestic prosperity. Nostalgia factors aside, Alyonka has also been a part of the childhoods of multiple generations of Russians and its place in Russian culture is firmly set.
In fact, the brand continues to grow today, both in sales and in product diversification. Alyonka bars now come in various flavors (with nuts or dried fruits), and in various sizes (from tiny personal sizes often sold at grocery store check stands to giant family-sized bars).
In honor of the chocolate’s 40th birthday, artist Ivan Zemtsov organized the Alyonka Mail Art Project. Fans from around the globe mailed original Alenka-inspired postcards to the artist’s P.O. Box in Yoshkar-Ola. The Yoshkar-Ola Museum of Fine Arts displayed the first round of postcards in October 2006. Although Zemtsov still receives postcards, Alenka has undergone the ultimate 21st century pop culture transformation and become a popular internet meme.
Much like her human contemporaries, the Alenka bar came of age in the Soviet Union, survived the turmoil of collapse, and emerged from the chaos without compromising her integrity. Today, the unassuming little chocolate is much more than a commodity: she’s a cultural icon.
Below are several recent (ca. 2012) advertisements for Alyonka, with Russian subtitles.
Below is a Russian-language report on the Alyonka Mail Art Project – including several images of the entries sent in.
Alyonka has become a popular internet meme – so much so that there are tutorial videos out there on how to photoshop things into the brand. For a wide range of (sometimes offensive) examples of this, click here.