Russian-language labeling in stores, on packaging in Estonia dwindling

Shopper at a Lidl supermarket in Tallinn.
Shopper at a Lidl supermarket in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Since first expanding to Estonia last year, supermarket chain Lidl has displayed information at its stores exclusively in Estonian. Other chains, however, are continuing to reduce their own Russian-language communications as well, noting that this is only natural.

Supermarket shoppers are used to the fact that some stores play audio ads over their speaker systems, and that many of the products being advertised are repeated in several languages. In recent years, however, such info has been presented in Russian less and less often.

Lidl communications director Katrin Seppel told ERR that all of their info has been displayed in Estonian right from opening day. As all Lidl stores have similar layouts, she noted, clients who have shopped at one of their stores before should be able to find everything they need, even if they don't speak the local language.

"If needed, our store employees will help you find the product you want," Seppel added. "We haven't received any customer feedback regarding this arrangement."

Rimi marketing manager Marta Vihtre said that for them, reducing Russian-language communications has rather been the natural course of things, not due to the war in Ukraine.

"For example, Rimi flyers have been published exclusively in Estonia since 2019 already," Vihtre highlighted. "In terms of the retail environment specifically, there are very few bilingual info labels, and are only found in areas with higher numbers of native Russian-speaking customers."

Jaanika Terasmaa, head of the Sales and Marketing Department at Maxima Eesti, said that Maxima discontinued Russian-language marketing communications at its Estonian stores after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February.

"All directional signage inside our stores is likewise in Estonian," Terasmaa noted. "Some bilingual information carriers dating back to an earlier period are being gradually replaced as stores are updated; these include product names listed in two languages, however the Estonian-language text is always larger and bolder, and more prominent."

Terasmaa acknowledged that sometimes a product that's been advertised as part of a promo hasn't reached stores in time, and in that case Maxima has issued a written apology in both Estonian and Russian.

"We've made it our goal to use and speak Estonian," the retailer's marketing rep emphasized.

"We at Maxima invest a great deal in the development of language skills," she continued. "Both Ukrainian employees who have recently arrived in Estonia – of which we have 10 percent – as well as those who have lived in Estonia for a long time but haven't learned the language receive instruction. Our employees know that they won't be able to find a job in Estonia in the long run without speaking Estonian, and that is why they're interested in language training."

Some angry letters from Ida-Viru County

Terasmaa noted that employing Estonian is a conscious choice on Maxima's part, but acknowledged that this direction does make work more difficult sometimes. For example, they sometimes still get angry letters from customers in Ida-Viru County complaining about not really understanding the grocery chain's promo messages and content very well.

"It would be easier and more efficient to use bilingual communications there, but we've gone the direction that we won't be doing that," she stressed.

The marketing chief highlighted that after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Maxima was one of the first retail chains in Estonia that decided to remove products of Russian and Belarusian origin from its store shelves, and did so in a matter of just days.

Coop Estonia likewise discontinued procuring goods from Russia and Belarus immediately after the full-scale invasion began, and according to Coop communications director Martin Miido, the retail chain immediately reduced the amount of Russian-language label info on packaging in response as well.

"We've been using only Estonian-language signs in our stores for years already," Miido noted. "Only informational materials are available in several languages by the checkouts, and in our flyers we translate only essential product info into Russian to ensure our Russian-speaking customers, including war refugees from Ukraine, get the info they need to make purchase decisions."

According to Miido, Coop has noticed that the need for translating product and marketing info into Russian has decreased over the years, and they haven't ruled out the possibility of dropping Russian-language translations altogether in the future.

Selver marketing director Jürg Samel said that no Russian-language ads are played on their store intercom systems, and that only emergency alerts are played bilingually.

"Signs in stores are generally in Estonian; product category signs at [our Narva] Astri and Jõhvi Selver stores include Russian as well," he noted.

Store brands dropping Russian-language info labels

Samel said that packaging for Selver's store-brand products feature the product name only in Estonian, however some packaging also includes ingredients lists in Russian or English as well.

He noted that the fact that their packaging and retail environments don't use Russian isn't related to the war in Ukraine, but rather the fact that there's no need for both languages.

"Selver shoppers can get by with Estonian just fine," he emphasized.

Coop likewise recently stopped including Russian-language info on its store-brand products, and Rimi has made the decision to do so as well.

"There are still some products left whose packaging design needs updating, but you won't find translations on new packaging anymore," Vihtre said regarding Rimi.

"This isn't a direct impact of the war in Ukraine, but rather practical needs," she explained. "Rimi's store-brand products are sold on the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian markets, and we have to legibly include three languages on our packaging."


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: