Fonterra pulls business from Russia after more than 40 years over Ukraine invasion

Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell.
Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell. Photo credit: Getty Images

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has announced plans to pull business from Russia after more than 40 years in the country over the Ukraine invasion. 

Fonterra, New Zealand's largest company valued at $17 billion, also suspended shipments of products to Russia at the end of February. 

"Our first step following Russia's invasion of Ukraine was to establish the safety of the team in Russia, and our priority through this process continues to be doing the right thing by our people," Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell said on Monday. 

"We then suspended shipment of product to Russia while we assessed the impact of economic sanctions and discussed our long-term plans with our customers and joint venture partner.

"Following careful consideration of the impact on our people and our long-term plans for the Russian market, we will now close our office in Moscow, re-deploying staff where possible, and withdraw from our joint venture Unifood."

Fonterra primarily sends butter to Russia, but the market only represents 1 percent of the publicly traded company's annual exports. 

"Given the current strong demand for New Zealand dairy, we are confident in our ability to re-allocate this product to other markets," Hurrell said. 

Fonterra expanded into Russia in 2018 through a joint venture it operates with Unifood and its Russian distributor Foodline in St Petersburg. The company has 35 staff there and another seven in the Russian capital Moscow. 

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard, who is a dairy farmer and a Fonterra shareholder, last week urged the company to exit Russia. 

"It's going to be pretty pointless having any business in Russia because they are basically going to become a pariah state - what money we have tied up there now is probably lost," Hoggard told Stuff. 

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted an exodus of about 300 Western companies from the country, according to Yale University, including giants like McDonald's.

The fast-food chain closed 847 restaurants in Russia, and according to reports, the Russian government has renamed all the previously McDonald's branded restaurants as 'Uncle Vania'.

The logo is virtually identical to the M of McDonald's and the name originates from a book written by Anton Chekhov.

"The illegal occupation of trademarks has begun in Russia," Josh Gerben, an American lawyer, wrote on Twitter. 

The response from businesses came after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which it called a "special military operation" to "denazify" the country.

The Government earlier this month passed under urgency the Russia Sanctions Bill, which will allow New Zealand to join its allies by freezing the assets of any Russians connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime.