Just four months after first opening its doors in Belgium, Russian discount supermarket “MERE” is no more.
Marketed as a cut-price store and wholesaler that challenged chains such as Colruyt, Aldi, and Lidl, the supermarkt was famous for its no-frills approach to the shopping experience. No shelves, no displays, goods were typically stacked on pallets for prices up to 25% cheaper than its competitors.
In a surprise announcement on MERE Belgium’s Facebook page on Sunday 23 October, the company warned that the store would no longer open from Monday 24 October, except for “small wholesalers” who intended to purchase for at least €150 of stock. "We wanted to work until 15 November, but unfortunately have to close earlier."
This weekend, the company confirmed that its store in Opwijk is closed. "We have returned the goods to the suppliers. We are very grateful to everyone,” it said on Facebook.
Misreading the room
Part of the MERE’s downfall at its location in Opwijk, in the province of Flemish Brabant near Brussels, is undoubtedly linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Missing an original opening deadline before the start of the war, the company pressed ahead with its plan and launched the store just after the start of the invasion.
According to industry publication Retail Detail, MERE “spectacularly misread the room,” given that all its products were Russian. Much of these goods were then rapidly depleted with the introduction of sanctions against Russia and the rest of the store's stock was then sourced from within the EU.
The store promised to employ Ukrainian refugees and opened without fanfare for fears of provoking backlash. Nevertheless, many Belgians were not convinced and expressed anger at the opening online. The Brussels Times attempted to contact the store in June, but MERE declined to comment.
Despite plans to open ten locations across Belgium by the end of the year, the company only ever opened one location in Opwijk. It is uncertain if the closure marks the company’s complete departure from the Belgium market. MERE Belgium insists that it will soon open new locations across the country, an unusual move given the company’s struggles at its only location.
“We look forward to seeing you in our new stores. The addresses of the stores will be announced on our Facebook page and our website,” MERE Belgium insisted.
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The company previously assured that it would open new locations in the municipalities of Couvin and Flémalle in Wallonia, but the first location failed to get the appropriate permits and no further announcements were made about the store in Flémalle.
MERE currently operates in several EU countries, including Romania, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. In others, MERE’s plans have begun to collapse: the company closed all its British and Spanish locations following Russia’s invasion, and axed plans to open on the French market.
On Twitter, Oksana Bulda, the head of protest for Belgian-Ukraine NGO Promote Ukraine, hailed the closure of the store as a win for solidarity with Ukraine. “This is what happens if you open a Russian shop and shout “glory to Russia” in Belgium. Bye bye MERE,” the activist said.