(FORTUNE Magazine) – The "Snickersization" of Russia is over. After experimenting with the delights and delicacies of all brands Western in the first few years of the post-Soviet era, Russians have begun shifting their tastes homeward. Russians now want Russian chocolate, and they want it from Moscow's own Red October Chocolate Factory, the country's oldest and largest confectionary. It's also now the most successful.

Just a year ago foreign brands like Toblerone, Waldbaur, and Cadbury's Roast ruled the brand-recognition rankings compiled by Russia's Target Group. Only one Russian brand placed in the top ten (none were Red October's). But since then Red October has stormed back and in the last half of 1996 held eight of the top spots, with its Alionka chocolate (named after a little girl) ranked first. Mars' Dove bar, at No. 6, was the only foreign bar in the top ten.

Why here, in Europe's third-largest confectionery market, are Russians saying dosvadaniye to Western brands? One reason is that the flirtation with Western candy was probably a fad. "When the revolution came around, Russians were very excited to get Mars, Snickers, and Hershey's from Europe," says James H. Johnson, director of international marketing at the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. "But the newness wore off."

Foreign manufacturers and importers may themselves be partly to blame. When free trade first came to Russia, Johnson notes, everyone was dumping excess, out-of-date, and poor-quality products on Russia. Chocolates were smuggled in and sold on street corners, and were often mishandled and kept at warm temperatures. So by the time they made it to consumers, the chocolates were likely to be warped or deformed.

Another reason for the rise of Russian chocolate is that Russian tastes are different. "Russian chocolate has a different taste and feel," says Johnson. "It's grittier because they use more cocoa. It's not as sweet." It can also be more expensive since the ingredients, cocoa and chocolate liqueur, cost more than the ingredients that are used by many Western chocolatiers. Russian chocolate producers, unlike importers, must abide by government-mandated levels of cocoa per candy bar.

But the main reason for the comeback is that Russian candymakers--especially Red October--got their act together. Last year the company modernized its packaging, product mix, and equipment. Its old machines, for instance, weren't able to mix nuts and raisins into the chocolate. The new ones can.

Founded in 1867 near the Kremlin by two German partners, the confectionary was nationalized after the October Revolution and renamed Red October in 1922. It produced chocolate, cocoa powder, toffee, tea cookies, and hard and soft candies.

Today Red October is concentrating on chocolate and other candies, which together make up 92% of its output. The company manufactures 200 products under 20 core brands in these categories. Total sales were $152 million last year. The company has opened 13 proprietary stores to help solve a problem companies in more developed markets rarely face: Prices of Red October's products fluctuate wildly with distributors' whims--some sell a candy bar for $1; others sell the same product for $3. Red October is Russia's first successful blue-chip consumer goods company, on its way to becoming the strongest national brand, says Oleg Pavlov, who follows Red October for Brunswick Brokerage.

Want to own a piece of the best candy brand in Russia? You may be able to before too long. Already trading over the counter in Russia, Red October hopes to issue American depositary receipts, which provide a way for U.S. citizens to invest in foreign stocks indirectly, as early as next year.

--Maria Atanasov