The first of ten stores of the Russian supermarket chain 'Mere' opened doors in Belgium, in Opwijk in the province of Flemish Brabant, on Wednesday – nine months later than initially planned.
The Mere chain offers products up to 20% cheaper than the cheapest supermarkets in Belgium such as Colruyt, Aldi and Lidl. To keep costs so low, Mere has a very simple set-up, displaying products on pallets and offering a limited range.
"The chain applied for the permit back in the spring of 2021, long before the war in Ukraine broke out," Opwijk mayor Inez De Coninck told De Standaard. "They wanted to open during the Easter holidays but that was at the beginning of the war and many refugees came to our country."
Employing Ukrainian refugees
De Coninck explains that the political situation now allows for the store to open: "Mere sells Russian products from their stock that it had here before the war. They have also promised to employ Ukrainian refugees."
The products on offer in the store are not included in the European boycott. Nearly all products come from within the European Union, with the exception of one product that comes from Russia, the owners told Het Laatste Nieuws.
"Still, we did agree with the manager not to make it a festive opening and to have stewards in the car park to make sure everything went smoothly," De Coninck added. "The police will also regularly pass by to keep an eye on things."
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Supermarkets in Belgium only have a limited selection of Russian products on offer. Both Aldi and Carrefour do not have any products from the country in their array and the two items from Russia normally sold at Delhaize – vodka and Red King Crab – have been removed from shelves for the time being.
Colruyt usually sells around 30 products from Russia, both edible and non-food items. But the company stated in early March that it would not be ordering any new products "for as long as the hostilities against Ukraine continue."