Pernod Ricard is to halt exports of Absolut vodka to Russia after it faced a storm of criticism from politicians and calls to boycott its drinks by prominent restaurants in the liquor’s homeland of Sweden.
Absolut was exercising its “duty of care towards our employees and partners”, Absolut’s chief executive Stéphanie Durroux said in a statement on Tuesday. “We cannot expose them to massive criticism in all forms.”
The French family-controlled group had resumed some shipments of the vodka to Russia, after halting them in March 2022 following Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The company said it had restarted the limited distribution in order to “protect its local team from any local criminal liability”. Employees, the company claimed, could face criminal charges for purposefully bankrupting Russia operations.
However, the reaction in Sweden was swift. Svenska Brasserier, which runs eight restaurants in Sweden including Riche and Sturehof in Stockholm, stopped selling all of Pernod’s products. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday on whether it would resume sales.
Björn Söder, an MP for the nationalist Sweden Democrats, who support the rightwing government in Stockholm, said in a tweet: “Shame on you! Stop buying Absolut vodka.”
He was joined by Swedish politicians on both the right and the left who criticised the French drinkmaker’s decision. Söder responded to Pernod’s reversal on Tuesday saying: “Absolutely the right decision.”
The backlash underlines how western consumer brands are under increasing pressure to stop doing business in Russia. Sweden, which for centuries had been neutral and then militarily non-aligned, agreed to join Nato last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as public opinion swung against Moscow.
Stockholm, which has long been close diplomatically to Ukraine, has been one of Kyiv’s biggest supporters, sending tanks, other military equipment and money.
The boycott spread to neighbouring Finland where Restel, a group that owns more than 200 restaurants, on Monday said it had banned all Pernod Ricard products temporarily. Finland has joined Nato since Russia’s invasion.
Pernod Ricard, the world’s second-biggest drinks manufacturer by sales, bought Absolut, the world’s second-biggest vodka brand, in 2008 for €5.6bn from the Swedish government.
After the Paris-listed group suspended all shipments to Russia last year, its Russian distribution network functioned on pre-existing stocks. Once those reserves ran out, the company began resupplying, a spokesperson said.
While supporting employees in Russia were considerations, Pernod Ricard was also trying to protect its brands from illegal distribution in Russia, it said.
“Whether you want to or not, all drink brands are currently available in Russia. They want to protect their brands from black-market distribution by illegal importers,” a person close to the company said.
Other Pernod Ricard brands — mostly large-format whiskeys and vodkas, as well as the spirit Ararat — continue to be sent to Russia. The country accounted for about 3 per cent of Pernod Ricard’s sales before the invasion, a share that has since declined, while marketing spending in the country has been suspended.