Northern European co-ops respond to Ukraine war

Retail co-ops are providing humanitarian support and pulling Russian products from their shelves

Co-operative retailers in Northern Europe have launched a series of initiatives to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. Some retailers have also removed Russian products from their shelves.

One of the strongest responses came from S Group, a customer-owned Finnish network of co-ops in the retail and service sectors, with more than 1,800 outlets in Finland and travel and hospitality businesses in Estonia and Russia. S Group announced it would remove 50 items of Russian origin, including individual beers and beverages, chocolates and sweets, frozen fish products, hygiene products such as deodorant and sanitary pads, and winter sports equipment.

Around 150 products of Russian origin will also be removed from its Sokos and Emotion department stores, including cosmetics and jackets.

In addition, the S Group’s restaurants are removing Russian products from their range, including three different drinks. In addition, Sokos Hotels in Finland will stop showing Russian television channels.

The co-op specified that it does not make direct crude oil purchases from Russia. 

The S Group’s wholesale company Meira Nova is also removing products of Russian origin from its range, which means it will pull an entire selection of Russian foods and cosmetics. These policies also apply to Belarusian products.

“The S Group closely monitors the effects of the Ukrainian crisis on business in various industries and prepares in advance for various disruption,” it said.

S Group has also decided to close all business operations in Russia. S Group operates 16 Prisma supermarkets and three Sokos Hotels and has approximately 1,000 employees in St. Petersburg.

Pearl Plaza mall in Sankt Petersburg featuring S Group’s Prisma hypermarket (photo credit: S Group)

“The exit process will be done with due consideration to S Group employees and Russian law. Exact schedule is being evaluated,” it said.

The co-op is also supporting the Finnish Red Cross, giving €100,000 from its Disaster Relief Fund to support victims of the conflict in Ukraine.

“All our regional co-ops are donating 10 euros for each of their staff members,” an S-Group spokesperson told Co-op News. “That makes almost €300.000 in total. We are also giving our co-op members the opportunity to donate their bonuses to Ukraine.”

Another retailer supporting humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and neighbouring countries welcoming displaced Ukrainians is Coop Denmark. The second-biggest retailer of consumer goods in Denmark, with a market share of 40% and 1.4 million members, Coop Denmark is supporting the disaster relief fund launched by Red Cross Denmark. The co-operative is also sending five trucks with warm blankets, canned food, diapers and other items to Ukraine via Poland. It also announced its intention to provide work for refugees arriving from Ukraine.

Red Cross appeal for Ukraine featured on Coop Demark’s website

A similar step was taken by Coop Norway, which has been a main partner with the Red Cross for several years.

“We have donated 10 million NOK to the Red Cross so that they can provide health care, food, water, and warm clothes to Ukrainians in need. This donation comes in addition to the donations we give as a partner each year,” said head of Communications Silje Verlo Alisøy.

Coop Norway App featuring option to donate money to support relief efforts in Ukraine led by the Red Cross

From 3 March customers have been able to donate money in stores to support the Red Cross’ relief work in Ukraine. They can donate NOK 50, NOK 150 or NOK 250.

Coop Norway marketing materials pledging support for Ukraine were distributed at the Holmenkollen Ski Festival (Photo: Coop Norway)

Coop Norway has also stopped all imports of Russian products but will continue to sell a few products that are already on shelves to avoid waste.

The retailer was the main sponsor of the Holmenkollen Ski Festival held in Oslo on 5-6 March, and showed its support for Ukraine by changing its logo to Ukraine’s flag colours.

Coop Norway branding in Ukraine’s colours was displayed on the equipment of all competitors.

Marketing materials in the Ukrainian colours were used all over the stadium and distributed via handouts to the audience. 

Likewise, Samkaup in Iceland is also supporting Red Cross operations in Ukraine. One of the largest retailers in the country, Samkaup has a 25% market share and employs 1,400 people. The co-op is using its wide membership network to support donations to Red Cross Iceland via its app.

The Swedish co-operative movement also expressed support for Ukraine. Apex Co-operatives Sweden said in a statement:

“Co-operative and mutual companies in Sweden stand by Ukraine and its population. We send our thoughts and support to the people of Ukraine, whose entire existence is being destroyed before their eyes. We stand with you.

“The Swedish co-operative movement condemns Russia’s unprovoked and illegitimate invasion of Ukraine. We demand that Russia’s large-scale attacks on Ukraine and the Ukrainian people cease with immediate effect.

Co-operative and mutual companies are based on co-operative values, which include democracy, social responsibility, autonomy and independence and co-operation among co-operatives. Co-operatives Sweden and our member companies form part of the strong international co-operative movement, which is a positive and progressive force across the whole world. The Swedish co-operative movement supports our co-operative colleagues in Ukraine, and we are in contact with Cooperatives Europe about the opportunities for providing direct support and aid.” Swedish co-ops have made contributions to Save the Children, UNHCR and UNICEF. Furthermore, Coop Sweden members are able to donate points, which are converted into money for UNICEF.

“At Co-operatives Sweden, we urge co-operative and mutual companies, our members and other co-operative leaders in Sweden to stand with and support Ukraine and Ukraine’s citizens, and to defend universal democratic and co-operative values. The Ukrainian people have the right to their own freedom and self-determination, and to continue living in a democracy in the future,” added the statement signed by Anna Karin Hatt, chair, Co-operatives Sweden.