Vodka and Co. – how wise is it to avoid Russian food?

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Putin’s war against Ukraine leads to new sanctions: in addition to raw materials, Russian food also comes into the picture.

The EU imposes an import ban on Russian vodka. US President Joe Biden had already blocked imports to the United States in March. American politicians publicly poured vodka. In Germany, major supermarket chains have already banned Russian food from their shelves.
But can the Russian food boycott persuade Putin to end his military operations? André Kowalew, General Manager of Dovgan, a wholesaler of Eastern European products. His company used to have food from Russia in its range. Today, says the man, who is originally from St. Petersburg, Dogvan has severed trade ties with Russian manufacturers:
“I have no means to pressure Putin or his people. I only have the opportunity to explain it to my producers and suppliers. Because I want to show my position and use it to pressure society in Russia That they understand that times change for people too. They have to feel that. At every level. And I’m just doing it at my level in terms of food. This is an area that is not so important for Russia and I have to still showing my position.”

According to Kovalev, only about 10 percent of the goods in his range came from Russia. Yet at Dovgan there are still foods that are considered quintessentially Russian: sweetened condensed milk, for example.

“We are the market leader in Germany. We have 20 percent of the market share for sweetened condensed milk. This means that every fifth can sold is sold by us. But I’ve never made a can in Russia. Because Russia has no access to the European market – milk and meat products – they are banned.”

That means that so-called Russian sausage, salad or cheese offers in German supermarkets are not made in Russia. Other products considered “typically Russian” in Germany are not at all, Kowalew says. Most of these foods were mass produced during Soviet times. As now, they are also consumed and produced in the Baltic States or other European countries. This does not only apply to vodka, which has its own tradition in different EU regions. Also in European cuisine there are different variants of dough dishes such as pelmeni.
Typically Russian products are therefore more of a marketing invention than reality – there is another reason for this: Kovalev points out that the food cultures in Russia are very different.
“People eat more fish in the north. There are regions in the Far East that eat more like Asians, such as Koreans or Japanese. While the whole south looks more like the Ottoman Empire. Ajvar, Pinjour etc. The western part eats very similar to people in Ukraine or Poland.”
If you want to make sure that no product from Russia ends up in the shopping cart, a look at the EAN number helps. The numbers 460 to 469 at the beginning of the code identify products made in Russia.
The pressure that can be exerted on Russia through a food boycott is low. Still, it was important for Kovalev to send a sign to his old homeland. Many of his employees have roots in Ukraine. While this was hardly a problem before Russian troops marched in, many have now become ardent Ukrainians. The company has sent several aid shipments to Ukraine in collaboration with major supermarket chains – the initiative for this would come from its employees.
Kovalev: “Every action to stop the war pays off. The question is: if we had been doing this for a longer time, maybe since Crimea, we wouldn’t be where we are today. But all of us – I don’t want certain people with point the finger – we all didn’t do it and we are where we are now It’s important to me that I can still look at myself in the mirror in a year’s time – that’s important for me, for my company and my employees. “