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Cover up: vodka brand allegedly papers over Russia reference on its the label

The Sun reported finding bottles of JJ Whitley vodka in UK supermarkets with references to Russia and St. Petersburg crossed out and a secondary label placed on top.

Credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd.

The publication claims that they discovered examples of Blue Raspberry Vodka and Artisanal Russian Vodka with altered labels in a Kent Morrisons and a Sainsbury’s in County Durham. The Blue Raspberry Vodka was only launched in September 2021, and the label used to prominently mention its Russian provenance, though it is now produced in the UK. The JJ Whitley website has also erased any references to Russia from its website.

A Twitter user, who describes themselves as an English-Ukrainian, was outraged at the presence of JJ Whitley Artisanal Russian Vodka on the shelves of Sainsbury’s. In this instance, the word “Russian” had not been crossed out or covered up, and he asked staff why the bottle had not been recalled:

London-based Halewood Artisanal Spirits opened a £5 million vodka distillery in St. Petersburg in September 2020 for the production of JJ Whitley. At the time, group CEO Stewart Hainsworth said that a Russian distillery enabled them “to offer truly authentic vodka…using superlative quality Russian grain and water.”

However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the company suspended operations in Russia and vowed to have all of their vodka distilled in the UK by the end of March. Production of JJ Whitley was moved from St. Petersburg back to Chorley, Lancashire, where the distiller estimates 300,000 bottles have been produced since mid-March.

The (now) British provenance of the vodka was cited by a spokesperson for Asda after the supermarket came under criticism when bottles of Gold Filtered Artisanal Russian Vodka were spotted in a shop in Ashton-Under-Lyne.

A statement from Halewood said that it is “a family business founded and headquartered in the UK. The JJ Whitley distillery in St Petersburg is 100% owned by Halewood and has no affiliation with the Russian government.” In a tweet, complete opposition to the Russian army was also expressed.

According to The Sun, a spokesperson for Halewood said that some stock made before the invasion (and their withdrawal from Russia) was already in bars and on supermarket shelves. The spokesperson went on to say that the decision to relabel residual stock was in order to “avoid offending customers”, and it is “never our intention to deceive.”

Prior to the invasion, JJ Whitley was the second biggest selling Russian vodka brand in the UK. But Russian vodka has become a risky business decision in the wake of war in Ukraine, with sanctions including a 35% import tariff hike.

Halewood is not the only drinks company to pull out of Russia, groups such as AB InBev and Diageo have also suspended or reduced operations in the country in response to the invasion.


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