Sainsburys chicken kyiv/kiev move shows how attuned firms are to social media rage

The UK supermarket chain is changing the name of a popular meal to help the people of Ukraine

There are two wholly different categories of businesses involved in the accelerating corporate cancellation of Russia and all things Russian.

The first is major businesses with substantial operations in or servicing Russia, which are pulling out or suspending sales to avoid the mess of sanctions and also the behind-the-scenes wrath of European governments and the US. Companies in this category include Ford, Ikea, CRH, Volkswagen, Diageo and other multinationals that have pulled major Russian operations.

The second category consists of companies that operate mostly in the consumer market of western countries, but which want to send a signal to the public that they abhor what is being done by Russia in the Ukraine. There are two distinct camps within this category that appear to act in different ways.

The first camp includes large-scale consumer businesses that are worried about becoming the targets themselves of by social media ire or customer boycotts for doing business connected to Russia. Businesses in this camp include the likes of Walt Disney and Warner Bros, which have suspended all new releases into the Russian market. Travel sites such as Expedia, which has stopped selling in the Russian market, also fall broadly into this camp.


The second camp consists of businesses that may recognise a positive public relations opportunity for themselves in doing something, anything, to send a public signal on Russia, no matter how superficial or meaningless the gesture is. Sainsbury’s, which on Friday announced it would change the name of its chicken kievs to chicken kyiv, is a clear candidate for this camp. It’s chicken move seems a pointless decision designed only to receive praise from the crowd.

Ukrainians say that Kyiv is their capital city, while Russians refer to it as Kiev. Yet chicken kiev is a dish made by imperial Russian chefs in the 19th century, applying French methods. It’s a Russian dish, essentially. It makes perfect sense in that context to say chicken kiev. It isn’t a Ukrainian city. It is a recipe.

The highly attuned reaction of consumer businesses to the anger on social media over Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine is very 2022.