Brewed in Czechia, available in Russia: Why is Czech beer still sold eastward?

Despite Czechia's strong stance against Russian aggression, several Czech beer labels can be found in Russia's hypermarkets.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 17.03.2023 15:13:00 (updated on 17.03.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Despite several international companies pulling out of Russia, Czech beer continues to be sold in Russian supermarkets. Many – including the beer firms themselves – are asking why this is the case, and what the logistics of the process are.

Globus pouncing on high demand

An investigation by Seznam Zprávy found that Russians’ high demand for Western goods – Czech beer being an example – has ensured the continuation of Czech goods being traded in Russia.

E-shops belonging to the massive German-owned Globus network of hypermarkets offer 24 brands of Czech beer that people in Russia can buy. 

Globus operated in Russia before the start of the war and is legally allowed to continue to do so – despite much public pressure to close its shops in the country. At the beginning of March last year, Business Insider wrote that Russia has been the most profitable division for Globus in recent years.

Although large Czech beverage companies such as Plzeňské Prazdroj or Budějovický Budvar immediately withdrew their Russian operations 12 months ago, several smaller alcohol firms have seen their labels appear on Russian shop shelves.

The owner of one brand, Hubertus, expressed surprise when journalists informed him that the company’s beer was sold in Russia. Managers of the Pivovary CZ brewing group spoke about the same situation and explained there were no existing contracts between the firm and Russia since February 2022.

Crossing borders – to anywhere

How, then, do so many Czech beer brands appear in Russia?

One answer lies in resales, which are often done illicitly. Not every country in Europe has imposed sanctions on Russia (Serbia is an example), and once a Czech beer bottle has been purchased, it could theoretically go anywhere. This can then fall into the hands of Russia’s Globus branch, and end up on its shelves.

"We made beer under this name (Zlatý Pramen) for a Polish customer, we don't know whether they exported the beer to Burkina Faso or Nagorno-Karabakh." – Brewer Bulko

The Czech branch of Globus has defended itself and said it doesn't "ship any goods from the Czech Republic or other EU member states to Russia," nor does it "participate in such activities." 

However, news this week that employees at Czechia’s Globus branch will go on a “work trip” to Russia has raised some eyebrows and prompted criticism. Additionally, Volker Schaar, the head of Globus in Russia, moved from Moscow to Prague in 2022 and also manages the Czech branch of Globus.

Russian influence at Czech breweries

A second reason is the ownership structure of some Czech breweries. Seznam Zprávy comments that several breweries in Czechia are run at least in part by Russian owners, who send alcohol eastwards for a good profit.

AGENCY PROPERTIES

The export of alcohol from the EU to Russia is not blocked in any way today, unless one bottle is worth over EUR 300 (CZK 7,200).  

Miroslav Koberna from the Food Chamber of the Czech Republic recently said that cooperation between separate Czech beer makers and Russian sellers is necessary to find out how some Czech beer was making its way east, and exactly how much. This, however, may prove difficult. 

The temptation of continuing business amid strong demand for Czech beer – combined with illegal trade – has led to several labels being displayed in Russia’s supermarkets. Unless the government introduces stricter sanctions, this is a trend likely to continue.

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