Following our report two weeks ago that Russia was the red hot ticket for expansion, I hoofed it out there, wrapped in my winter furs and looking the spitting image of Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago, to see whether reports of a nation ready to spend, spend, spend were true, courtesy of premium vodka company Russian Standard. The answer is a definite yes. Dinner at the Marble Palace, a private viewing at the Hermitage, VIP seats at the Andrea Bocelli concert in Palace Square and a club night involving ballet dancers, a classical orchestra and numerous, er, body builders and barely clothed ladies gave me a taster of what the nouveau riche, or is that the oligarchy, get up to out there. As for the vodka, I don't think the hangover has even started.

Still, even money can't guarantee everything goes to plan, as the launch of Russian Standard's £31m distillery proved. The £2m launch weekend culminated in the unveiling of the most advanced technological plant in the world to great fanfare in front of the governor of St Petersburg, Russian Standard's distributors and a gaggle of the world's top drinks media. So it was a heart-stopping moment when the button was pressed to begin bottling - and nothing happened. Apparently, there is an explanation. "The conveyor belt is highly roboticised so when people were around, it did not work. Once they moved, it started," I was assured.

While the food industry lobbied at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth, the Co-operative Group chief executive Martin Beaumont was still smarting from his experience last week at Labour's Manchester event. My spies tell me that he was put in his place by a delegate at a Co-op sponsored fringe event. Dorothy Ormerod, a member of two societies, told Beaumont it was not acceptable to pay staff the minimum wage. Beaumont replied: "As chief executive I take your comments as instruction."