REMA checks out of Sunday battle

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Norway’s grocery store battle over Sunday openings took a new twist in the middle of the long holiday weekend, when the REMA 1000 chain announced it would no longer defy the country’s ban on Sunday shopping. REMA will now keep its stores shut on Sunday, but only because some of its main rivals like KIWI and Joker are doing the same.

REMA 1000 is open to as late as 11pm on weekdays and 10pm on Saturdays. Store executives have now decided that's long enough and will drop restricted Sunday openings, at least for now. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

REMA 1000 stores like this one in Kirkenes in Northern Norway are open to as late as 11pm on weekdays and 10pm on Saturdays. Store executives have now decided that’s long enough and will drop limited Sunday openings, at least for now. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

REMA claimed it had noticed that KIWI especially was closing stores it had been keeping portions of open on Sunday, challenging the law that restricts retailing to all but small shops of 100 square meters or less. REMA’s franchise chief Jan Frode Johansen said that it viewed KIWI’s closures as “an admission and finally a willingness to follow the law, even though our surveys still show dozens of violations.”

Norway’s grocery store market is now controlled by just three major players since ICA pulled out of the country last year. They’re all battling for market share against each other and the growing numbers of online grocery shopping ventures appearing on the scene.

KIWI, part of the dominant and hugely profitable Norges Gruppen that also runs Meny, Spar, Joker and a host of other food retailing and wholesaling ventures, began the practice last winter of cordoning off all but just a 100 meters of sales space within some of its larger stores. KIWI clerks like those at a large store in Hadeland, however, would routinely fetch goods for Sunday shoppers that were located in other parts of the store that were supposed to be off limits.

Law not enforced
That infuriated REMA, whose leaders reported them to police in an effort to drum up publicity about the practice. When police said they wouldn’t fine KIWI, because they needed to put a priority on serious crime instead of Sunday store openings, REMA started opening several of its stores as well. It simply roped off areas, though, and blatantly offered to fetch other goods for customers that couldn’t be found in the area within the ropes.

That launched another round of accusations that now REMA was undermining the law as well, with Justice Minister Anders Anundsen the latest to complain just last week. He claimed the grocery retailers’ creative Sunday selling schemes were now “systematically” chipping away at the ban on Sunday shopping.

Anundsen didn’t put any force behind his decree, though, and the police still said they had far more important things to do than enforce the Sunday shopping ban. It thus seemed like it would finally be lifted, something Norway’s conservative minority coalition wants to do but lacks majority support in Parliament. The grocery retailers’ battle climaxed when REMA decided to keep 25 of its 50 stores open even through the long pinse- and 17th of May holiday weekend.

Re-shuttering, at least for now
On Sunday, however, REMA confirmed it would re-shutter its stores from next Sunday. “We’ve made our point,” a REMA spokesperson told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

The politicians and union officials battling to keep stores closed on Sundays seem at odds with consumers, given the large numbers of people who have patronized both REMA and KIWI and the small Bunnpris and other stores allowed to do business on Sundays. Parking lots across the border in Sweden, where stores have been open on Sundays for years, are also full of cars with Norwegian license plates on Sundays.

The government minister in charge of trying to enforce the Sunday shopping ban had ordered REMA, KIWI and other retailers to abide by the law, but she also wants to re-examine the Sunday ban. And most all grocery retailers with stores located in so-called “tourism areas” will be opening or re-opening on Sundays anyway, as soon as the summer holiday season gets underway. Then they’re all legally allowed to do business and stores especially in coastal holiday destinations are usually packed with customers.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund