The Proteha sunflower seeds are gone. So are the bottles of Kvass malt beer, and the chocolate-covered marshmallows.
All of these products with made-in-Russia labels could be found on select grocery shelves in Canada until recently. But as companies around the world have distanced themselves from operations and business relationships in Russia – a corporate shunning of Vladimir Putin’s regime as its invasion of Ukraine rages on – grocery retailers here have also taken a small but symbolic step.
Some of the country’s largest grocers confirm they have been removing Russian products from store shelves in recent weeks. The food retailers’ decisions follow earlier moves in many provinces to stop selling Russian vodka.
Empire Company Ltd., which owns grocery chains including Sobeys, Safeway and FreshCo, began pulling Russian products from shelves in early March.
“We are also working with our supplier partners to find alternative sourcing arrangements for any of their Russian-produced products,” spokesperson Jacquelin Weatherbee wrote in an e-mailed statement.
Metro Inc. also stopped selling products made in Russia earlier this month, spokesperson Marie-Claude Bacon said.
Loblaw Companies Ltd. recently reviewed its product suppliers and has been removing items and ensuring they are not reordered, spokesperson Catherine Thomas wrote. “They generally are off shelf now,” she said.
Typically, grocers do not carry many items with a made-in-Russia label – in Metro’s case, the process meant pulling roughly a dozen products from the shelves – and do not have much impact on the Russian economy. But retailers are among a number of companies that have taken steps in recent weeks to demonstrate to consumers they are in solidarity with Ukraine. The Russian invasion, which began on Feb. 24, has killed hundreds of Ukrainian civilians and led 3.6-million people to flee the country.
Spokespeople for Walmart Canada and Save-On-Foods did not respond to questions about whether they carry Russian products and if so, whether they have made any changes with Russian suppliers. In an e-mailed response, Costco Canada spokesperson Martin Groleau would not say whether the chain has Russian products on its shelves.
In the days after the attacks began, liquor retailers across Canada began removing Russian-made products from stores and e-commerce sites, including Russian Standard Vodka. In the country’s most populous province, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario made the move following a directive from the provincial Finance Minister.
In early March, Stolichnaya vodka rebranded, announcing it would henceforth sell under the Stoli name, and emphasizing that the product has been manufactured in Latvia for more than 20 years.
“While I have been exiled from Russia since 2002 due to my opposition to Putin, I have remained proud of the Stolichnaya brand,” Stoli Group founder Yuri Shefler wrote in a statement, adding that the full name no longer represented his organization. “More than anything, I wish for ‘Stoli’ to represent peace in Europe and solidarity with Ukraine.”
In the past month, Canadian companies – such as McCain Foods, auto-parts manufacturer Magna International, convenience store giant Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., miner Kinross Gold Corp., Ski-Doo maker BRP Inc., and outerwear retailer Canada Goose – either suspended operations in Russia or withdrew from the market altogether.
When it comes to grocery stores, the decision is more complicated than simply scanning for Russian-labelled products, said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
“What constitutes a Russian product? Are we thinking about ingredients or brands?” he said. “It’s really hard for grocers to say I’m going to look at all [products] and eliminate any Russian content from stores.”
Canada imports some commodities from Russia, depending on demand, Prof. Charlebois said, including wheat, corn, barley and lentils. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the bread we buy in Canada contains Russian wheat.”
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