Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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French firm Bonduelle denies sending food parcels to Russian troops

Wednesday 04/January/2023 - 06:03 PM
The Reference

A French food giant operating in Russia has denied reports that it supplied 10,000 Christmas parcels to troops in Ukraine but has acknowledged that it is donating produce to a Russian food bank.

Bonduelle faced calls for a boycott after pictures of its packaging appeared on VKontakte and Telegram, the most popular Russian social networks. The images also showed supposed greetings from Ekaterina Eliseeva, chief executive of its Russian operation. The background appeared military.

“Happy new year, dear soldier. We wish you all the best and a speedy victory”, said the accompanying card, supposedly sent to 10,000 troops. Bonduelle, which is among the biggest of dozens of French businesses that ignored calls in March to leave Russia, said the “information and declarations assigned to Bonduelle company and its management are fake”.

However the company, one of the world’s biggest processed vegetable groups, is contributing to the “Kindness Basket” programme supplying food to “socially vulnerable people” in Russia, it said. “This has nothing to do with the army,” a spokeswoman added.

The supposed message from Eliseeva was also fake, the company said. It did not comment, however, on reports that link her past to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. A 2019 interview with her in the Russian edition of Forbes magazine said she graduated with qualifications as a translator from the FSB training college.

Despite the denial, anger towards Bonduelle has continued on western social media. The company, which has operated in Russia for more than 25 years and employs more than 1,000 people at three Russian factories, said last year that it had decided to remain in the country because it provided essential services.

Bonduelle said that since March it had halted new investment and that it would direct all profit from sales in Russia “to the future restoration of Ukraine”. The firm also exports from Russia.

It has drawn attention to the substantial activities of French businesses in Russia compared to those of most other western nations.

In October Bonduelle was one of 25 French firms ranked as most actively operating in Russia by the Yale School of Management. Others with Yale’s “F” rating included Auchan supermarkets, Clarins cosmetics, Eutelsat satellite television, the La Redoute retail chain, Veolia utilities and Vinci civil engineering. Other big groups, including Accor Hotels, TotalEnergies and Leroy Merlin DIY stores, were given mediocre scores for continuing with limits to their activities.

British companies were ranked at the top of the Yale list of countries that had withdrawn.