Polish retailers rush to remove Russian products from their shelves
By Anna Rzhevkina
Ever since Russia launched its war, Poland has been at the forefront of supporting Ukraine. It has hosted nearly 2.5 million refugees – far more than any other country – and provided military and humanitarian aid and political support to Ukraine.
He has also sought to exert economic pressure against Russia, both pushing for tougher international sanctions and pledging to end all Russian energy imports by the end of this year. Polish retailers and consumers have also joined these efforts, seeking to remove Russian (and Belarusian) products from their shelves and shopping carts as a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Meanwhile, companies that have continued to do business in Russia itself have been added to a so-called “shame list,” sparking consumer protests and boycotts in Poland.
Polish Consumer Agency advises buyers to boycott Russian products
Danish discount supermarket chain Netto – which operates nearly 650 outlets in Poland – was among the first to adopt the ban, with its parent company Salling Group announcing on February 28 that it was withdrawing all original items Russian – ranging from vodka to toothpaste – in Poland and its other markets.
It was soon followed by Biedronka, one of Poland’s largest discount chains, Żabka, the largest network of convenience stores, and supermarkets such as Carrefour, Lidl, Stokrotka and Kaufland. Some retailers said they would donate withdrawn products to charities helping Ukrainians.
“Products that are already in the stores and warehouses of Stokrotka, such as hygiene products for children and adults, will be donated to a charity linked to support for Ukraine,” the director announced on March 1. company sales and marketing, Mirosław Wawryszczuk.
“As part of the war in Ukraine, Carrefour Polska has decided to withdraw all products from Russia and Belarus from sale in its stores. The chain also has no intention of placing new orders for Russian and Belarusian products,” the French supermarket chain wrote on Facebook.
A large ‘shop’ offering free clothes to refugees from Ukraine has opened in a disused Krakow shopping mall, which has itself been turned into a temporary shelter for hundreds of refugees https://t.co/bRr6DNyGm5
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 14, 2022
Responding to calls from consumers, drugstores and pharmacies have also withdrawn products linked to Russia and Belarus. Poland’s largest pharmacy chain, Rossmann, has recalled more than 150 products from its shelves, saying it “does not want to support producers whose taxes, by funding the Russian budget, can also be used for purposes related attack on Ukraine”.
Other similar chains, such as Super-Pharm and Hebe, followed. Among the Russia-related brands removed by Hebe were Splat, Spasta, Ecolatier, Natura Siberica, Organic People and Babuszka Agafia. Products include toothpaste, dental floss, brushes and natural cosmetics.
Such decisions are, however, rather a token gesture, given that Polish retailers stock very few Russian products. Russia’s share of Polish imports is around 6%, according to data from the Polish Statistical Office, and most of it is due to Russian energy resources.
Poland unveils ‘most radical plan in Europe’ to end Russian energy imports
Russian cosmetics represent only 0.1% of the total import value and can easily be replaced by domestic products or imported from elsewhere, according to Polityka Insight, a policy and trade analysis agency.
“Russian and Belarusian items are not particularly numerous in the assortment of Polish stores,” Maciej Ptaszyński, vice president of the Polish Chamber of Commerce, told Notes from Poland.
The Polish National Consumer Board and the Polish Chamber of Commerce and Food Commerce have nevertheless asked Poles to pay attention to the barcodes of the products they buy. Those on Russian products start with numbers from 460 to 469, and Belarusian products have a barcode that starts with 481.
To give consumers clear information about the origin of products, an MP, Michał Wypij, proposed a law that would require Russian products to be labeled with the flag of that country. “We want all products of Russian origin to be clearly marked so that Poles have a choice and can consciously join the boycott of Russian products,” he said.
Poland announces plans to ‘de-Russify’ economy with ‘anti-Putin shield’
Even some products that do not come from Russia but have names associated with the country have been affected. Społem, a leading producer of mayonnaise and mustard, announced in March that one of its flagship products – the “Russian” version of its Kielecka mustards – would have its name changed to “Spicy”.
The decision was taken “following suggestions from consumers”, he said, while assuring that the product made in Poland would remain exactly the same as before, except for the new name.
Similarly, in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, a number of restaurants and shops across Poland changed the name of a popular variety of dumplings known as redhead (a word that actually means Ruthenian but is widely used to refer to Russia). In some cases they have been relabeled as Ukrainemeaning Ukrainian.
Polish restaurants change the name of “Russian” dumplings to “Ukrainian”
Yet while buyers may pay attention to such things initially, they are less likely to over time, say Polityka Insight analysts Mateusz Fornowski and Hanna Cichy. “People often make buying decisions based on convenience, price and brand loyalty, especially in fast-moving consumer products. [fast moving consumer goods].”
“The withdrawal of Russian and Belarusian products had little impact on the market as a whole,” they add. “However, some consumers may be affected by the disappearance of their favorite brands and be forced to adjust their shopping habits.”
Another element of the economic response to the war in Ukraine has been political, consumer and activist pressure against companies that continue to do business in Russia, whose names have been added to a so-called shame “.
Recent days have seen protests outside the Polish outlets of French retail chains Auchan, Decathlon and Leroy Merlin, with images of war victims and placards declaring the companies have Ukrainian blood on their hands.
Polish citizens are not happy with Auchan Decathlon Leroy Merlin to stay in Russia, so they block their stores 🇵🇱 pic.twitter.com/uDv162BnJv
— Exen 🇵🇱 (@Exen) March 28, 2022
LPP, a major Polish clothing company whose brands include Reserved, House and Cropp, also faced a wave of criticism after saying in early March it was pulling out of Russia but then continued to operate in the country. It was only this week that the company confirmed that it had finally completed the process of closing operations there.
This week, Decathlon also permanently suspended its activities in Russia, where it has 60 stores. The sporting goods company is a relatively small player in the country compared to Leroy Merlin and Auchan, which achieve 18% and 10% of their global sales in Russia, respectively.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said government data shows declining sales at Polish stores run by companies that refused to leave Russia, although he did not specify their names.
Analysts at PKO, Poland’s largest bank, noted last week that its payment card spending patterns showed that “chains that have remained active in Russia have lower revenue momentum than their competitors”.
Bojkot sieci handlowych, które nie wycofały się z Rosji, to więcej niż tylko hasła w mediach społecznościowych. Dane o płatnościach kartami @PKOBP pokazują, że sieci, które pozostały aktywne w Rosji, mają niższą dynamikę obrotów niż konkurencja. #StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/PuvjEX80OO
– PKO Research (@PKO_Research) March 23, 2022
These types of protests and boycotts against companies doing business in Russia, rather than consumers trying to avoid specific products, are likely to have a much bigger effect on the market, Polityka Insight analysts say.
Marketer Norbert Oruba agrees, telling Forsal that “Poles are now more willing than in the past to drop products from companies with a different value system than their own.” Companies that end up on the “shame list” could see a drop in revenue that could last for years, he says.
“In the pages of the history of Western brands that have not withdrawn from Russia, visible stains will remain.”
Main image credit: Michal Ryniak / Agencja Wyborcza.pl