The conflict in Ukraine has prompted a humanitarian effort unlike any Europe has seen in decades, with retailers and consumer goods companies at the forefront. Stephen Wynne-Jones reports. For a full version of this article, see the March/April 2022 issue of ESM.
The morning of February 24, 2022 will be remembered by many Ukrainians for a long time, when the worst-case scenario that many feared finally materialized.
He described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “a brutal act of war,” as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that peace in Europe had been “shattered,” and France’s Emmanuel Macron noted that “War in Europe does not just belong in the history books more” and Olaf Scholz from Germany said it was a “watershed moment in the history of our continent”.
With this in mind, the European retail and consumer goods sector has got to work, organizing fundraisers, logistical support and other humanitarian relief efforts.
At the same time, retailers in Ukraine are demonstrating unprecedented bravery and perseverance to keep stores open, shelves stocked, and nurturing and nourishing their local communities.
With the conflict evolving every day, ESM spoke to a number of retailers and suppliers who either trade directly in Ukraine or are involved in coordinating supply chain support and humanitarian efforts.
Gintautas Pavalkis, Novus
Gintautas Pavalkis is a board member of Ukrainian retailer Novus, which operates 92 stores across the country, most of which are in and around the capital Kyiv. When the conflict erupted, Novus said on its Facebook page that it was facing “significant difficulties” in delivering some products, while its bakers worked “day and night” to ensure fresh bread was available in its stores.
“We are key to civilian infrastructure in many ways because we have food. Also, we have the supply chain, we are able to source products both inside and outside of Ukraine and get them into the hands of the customer. Now many of those links in the supply chain are broken, but we are still able to maintain the core competencies that allowed us to build our supply chain in the first place.
“For us, one of the biggest challenges is having enough employees to open the stores. This is challenge number one. Secondly, we must actually be able to deliver the goods we have from the central warehouse to the branches in Kyiv. We couldn’t do that with many of them. We cannot risk it and some local authorities are advising us to keep our shops closed due to fighting.
“So we need to figure out what stores we can open and make sure we have enough stocks – at least enough to be able to open the doors and serve our customers.
“The morale of our people is quite high. We try to ensure the safety of our employees wherever possible as the situation on site is quite tense. But when you see people queuing outside the store before it even opens, it’s an encouragement to go in and open it. They are grateful that we are there to help them.”
Tobias Wasmuth, SPAR International
Tobias Wasmuht is Managing Director of SPAR International, of which SPAR Ukraine is a member. The SPAR store in Ukraine is run by the VolWest Group, an independent company run by Viktor Korsak and his family, who have 75 stores across the country. Since the conflict erupted, the broader SPAR community has a comprehensive range of supports for those affected by the crisis, and also leverages its longstanding partnership with Malteser International to ensure vital support and assistance can be provided to those who need it.
“For us, the number one priority has been to support the humanitarian effort, whether it’s transportation, logistics, supply chain or connection building. We are constantly engaged with our teams in Ukraine and in neighboring countries like Poland.
“When conflict first erupted, we acted quickly and set up a relief fund, made possible by our global partner network. Liquidity in the supply chain was extremely important because everything changed overnight. Suppliers began requiring cash on delivery, many had to shut down production, and retailers had to find new hub-and-spoke sourcing networks in the early days.
“In parallel, we have compiled a list of essential products that need to get to the people of Ukraine. We asked the different countries for donations and consolidated here in the Netherlands and also in our activities in Poland. The response from our organization has been phenomenal, truckloads of groceries, non-food, diapers, infant formula.
“We receive daily updates from our colleagues in Ukraine and around 90% of our stores have been able to remain open. For some, that might only be a few hours a day when it’s safe. But Viktor and his team tell us morale is high, higher than ever – they’re doing everything they can.
“We’ve seen the same thing during the COVID crisis – food security is an essential part of life. You are the lifeline. They are embedded in their community. And they are stepping up and doing tremendous work. We try to support them in any way we can.”
Pawel Musial, professional Rom Food
Paweł Musial has been the Managing Director of Profi Rom Food, Romania’s largest supermarket chain, since April 2020. He also has extensive experience in Ukraine, where he was Chairman and CEO of the Eko-Market chain, and in Russia. where he previously ran the Perekrestrok business and held a position on the board of X5 Retail Group. Since the conflict broke out, Musial and his team have developed a support platform profi.ro/ajutor-ukraina.
“When the conflict broke out, around 200 of our staff were working all night preparing aid kits containing food, water, medicine, SIM cards and printed information on Romania’s main phone numbers for those wanting to cross the border.
“We have also taken up refugee housing – many professional staff, including management, have taken refugee families into our homes. In addition, I was in contact with the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and his deputy, Kostiantyn Usov, and we organized the transport of eight power generators so that they could keep the electricity supply in their hospitals.
“For us – and I would also appeal to other retailers – it is more important than making a token gesture or sending money to trade directly with Ukraine by sending them goods. Offer them direct help, provide them with the products they need in these difficult times. And every single day counts, every hour counts.”
Mikhail Skvorchynskyi, Stay with Ukraine
Until recently, Mikhail Skvorchynskyi was engaged in brand development. Since the outbreak of the conflict, he has focused on building humanitarian links with organizations across Europe through an initiative called Stay With Ukraine. The main goal is to bring together most of the recognized humanitarian organizations in Ukraine with logistic companies, warehouses and customs authorities and to connect this team with any other organization willing to help.
“As I have many connections, I wanted to see what I could do to help. Instead of going to the front lines and building sandbag walls, I decided to work from dawn to dusk, collaborating with supermarket chains, factories and retailers as much as possible to see how they could support the people of Ukraine. Thus was born Stay With Ukraine.
“We have no time to lose – someone could potentially die at any second. We don’t have time to process money transfers, it’s more important that we get products into the hands of the people who need them – either take them straight to the border or arrange for collection at a warehouse.
“Stay With Ukraine is more than an organization, it is a brand that connects all other organizations willing to help. We have to feed the people, we have to bring them medicines, we have to build a simple, understandable system through which goods can be provided to those in need.”
If an ESM reader would like to get involved in the Stay With Ukraine campaign, please contact us at [email protected] and we can put you in touch with Mikhail.
© 2022 European supermarket magazine – Your source for the latest A-brand news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. click Subscribe to to log in ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.