Frustrations at the grocery store

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EXPATRIATE MUSINGS
John Shealy, a former grocer from the US now living in Mandal, sounds off on the grocery business in Norway. Shealy’s piece suggests it’s not just the high prices that can shock foreigners, but the lack of consumer-driven selection.

When I read the article headlined “Government mulls grocery probe,” it opened up something in me that has been on my mind for the seven years that I have lived here in Norway. In short, consumers don’t have the choices they should have in such a wealthy country.

A trip to the grocery store in Norway can leave consumers feeling that they're at the mercy of the large, highly profitable wholesalers and retailers who dominate the business. PHOTO: Views and News

I worked for more than 30 years in the grocery business, rising from bag boy to store manager. With years of experience in the wholesale food business as well, I say this as I visit the grocery stores here in Norway: The way things are being done is not really customer- or consumer-driven. When I read the article in regards to (grocery giant) NorgesGruppen and the other companies and families controlling the business here, it makes me want to tell you how I see it.

When I arrived in Norway I could buy Pantene hair products (now no longer available), Nutella chocolate spread (cannot find that anymore either), and several other grocery store items. I also see that products like underarm roll-on are sold in very small bottles and there is no choice in sizes. This makes for a high profit for retailers. There is virtually no underarm stick deodorant on the market here as well.

In the meat department, why must I have such a small choice of chicken? It’s hard to find any chicken legs, wings or thighs that you can purchase unless they are marinated. I don’t want them marinated.

I could go on and on but you see the picture.

The reason I have listed these items is to give you an idea that these products are, in the rest of the world, very good sellers. They would be here in Norway as well, if they were on the shelf.

What I see is that these family groups controlling the market are forcing the consumer to buy what they want them to buy and not the other way around. In Norway, we have a selection of company-driven products, and not consumer-driven products. I have always wanted to explain this to someone but I did not know where or who to take it to. I see Nutella competes with a Norwegian-made chocolate spread, so I am guessing that is why Nutella is not on the shelf anymore, but let the consumers decide what they want to purchase, and not the powers above.

It would be great to see products offered in this country that would benefit the public consumer. Like family-size products, instead of those very small-sized product choices we have now. I know there has been a big increase in items such as gourmet products that have been imported, but I still see a very crafty and political family-run business that doesn’t give the consumer their choice of products.

Rather, we get products that the wholesalers and retailers want us to buy. Why is this? Huge profits.

John Shealy currently runs JS Marketing, Consulting and Sales in Mandal, on Norway’s southern coast. He has been living in Norway since 2002.

(Written September 7, 2009)
Views and News from Norway/John Shealy

For more expat commentaries on life in Norway, go to Views on the News.

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