An unusual food fight has broken out in Norway, between one of the country’s biggest discount grocery store chains and the Italian Embassy in Oslo. They’re not literally throwing pasta at one another yet, but the conflict seems spicy indeed.
It all started earlier this year, when grocery store chain Rema 1000 launched a line of products called “Italian Favorites” that promised “dinner for less than a hundred kroner” (about USD 16, and cheap by Norwegian standards).
The product line includes items such as “Italian meatballs,” “Pizza Fresca Calzone” and “Italian-spiced” salmon filets and pork chops, all backed by a man named Benito Nava, who claims to have grown up in Bologna and run Italian restaurants in Norway for 30 years. According to the ads, Nava will show Norwegians “how easy it is to make Italian favorites for the whole family, for less than a hundred kroner.”
Nearly all the actual food items are Norwegian in origin — the meat and fish, for example — and that’s normally promoted as an advantage in a country that heavily subsidizes its food producers and protects the local market by seasonally blocking imports.
Cooking up controversy
In this case, though, it’s the very Norwegian origin of the food that reportedly has cooked up controversy and sparked protests from the Italian Embassy. Embassy officials, report Norwegian newspapers, claim Rema 1000’s campaign misleads consumers into thinking the products are Italian, when they’re really Norwegian. The Italian Embassy, reports newspaperAftenposten, is insisting that it reserves the right to use all legal means to protect Italian products.
The Italians object to Rema 1000’s use of the Italian flag and the word “Italia” on the Norwegian products, and to the use of a “Pavarotti look-alike” (Nava), when the fine print shows the ingredients come from Norway, not Italy. None of Rema 1000’s products has been subjected to any quality control by the Italians, the embassy complains.
The Italians thus feel that the Norwegian grocery store chain has violated several EU directives concerning product content and marketing, reports Aftenposten, but didn’t want to comment beyond a written statement.
The embassy’s complaint has caught Rema 1000 officials by surprise. They apparently thought the Italians would welcome their Italian food campaign, and told Aftenposten that they had “been in dialogue” with the embassy before the campaign began. Rema officials said they’d take contact again.
The Norwegian media itself seemed split on the issue, with one commentator for newspaper Dagsavisen accusing the Italians of “misunderstood national patriotism” and suggesting that the Italians should be happy a Norwegian retailer is “using millions of kroner to market Italian food traditions.”
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), meanwhile, asked a well-known Italian gourmet in Oslo to taste-test Rema 1000’s “Italian-Norwegian” food products. He wasn’t impressed, either with their ingredients, how they tasted and looked, or how they’re being promoted.
“I can well understand that the embassy is protesting,” Dag Tjersland, who runs the popular Baltazar restaurant in Oslo, told DN. “Good raw ingredients are part of Italy’s pride. It can look like (Rema’s) products are sponsored by Italy.” As far as he’s concerned, Italy probably wouldn’t want to sponsor them.
“And what does salmon have to do with the Italian kitchen?”