Grocery branch probes high prices

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Thousands of Norwegians cross the border into Sweden every day to stock up on groceries and other goods that are as much as 40 percent cheaper than they are at home. Now grocery retailers themselves concede that Norwegians pay NOK 31 billion more for food than their Scandinavian neighbours every year, but they won’t accept the blame.

This is a familiar site to Norwegians who go shopping south of Oslo in Sweden to avoid Norway's high prices at the grocery store. PHOTO: Views and News

The grocery store owners commissioned their study of Norway’s high food prices in response to a government-backed study released earlier this year. The government study put a lot of the blame for high food prices on a lack of competition within the grocery store industry, where several retail chains are owned by the same company and wholesalers also have a lot of power, keeping choices low, product sizes small and prices high.

The new study released on Wednesday acknowledged that Norwegian consumers end up paying NOK 31.3 billion more for food than Swedes and Danes, or roughly NOK 15,000 more per household ini Norway.

The retailers’ organization Virke, formerly known as HSH, hired the Norwegian institute for agricultural economics (NILF) to detail price differences. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that they attributed NOK 8 billion of the excess amount to Norway’s agricultural policies that protect farmers through heavy subsidies and high tariffs on cheaper imported goods.

Another NOK 13 billion of the NOK 31.3 billion was attributed to higher prices and rates retailers pay to lease or buy their stores and maintain them, to hire workers and cover expensive distribution costs.

The remaining NOK 9.5 billion was “unclarified,” and the researchers from NILF admitted some of it can be blamed on a lack of competition among Norway’s various grocery store chains. They don’t think Norway’s higher prices can be blamed on the grocery store chains alone, even though their owners tend to be among the wealthiest in Norway.

Debate over high food prices will continue, with a hearing on the government report expected sometime after December 1. Meanwhile, stores in Swedish border towns like Svinesund and Töcksførs are likely to remain busy.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund