Farmers ridiculed over hotel boycott

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Norway’s large and powerful farmers’ lobby, Bondelaget, was a subject of public ridicule on Tuesday, after news broke that its chapter in Oppland County was moving its annual meeting out of a hotel at Hafjell because the hotel serves milk from the upstart Q-Dairy. The farmers prefer to support dominant dairy cooperative Tine, not its small and only competitor in the milk business.

The Quality Hotel Hafjell lost the business of farmers' organization Bondelaget, because the hotel serves milk from a small dairy that rivals the dominant cooperative Tine. PHOTO: Hafjell / Choice Hotels

“When it became known (that the Quality Hotel Hafjell served Q-Dairy milk instead of Tine milk), we got a lot of reaction from our members, who thought we should look for another hotel,” Trond Elligsbø, leader of Oppland Bondelag, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “That’s what we’ve done.”

NRK reported that now, instead of holding their annual meeting next month in the hotel near the Hafjell ski center where they’d otherwise been happy for years, the farmers’ group will meet at Thon Hotel Skeikampen, also next to a ski center and also close to where the Q-Dairy started up operations several years ago at Gausdal. Q-Dairy still has a relatively small share of the milk market compared to Tine but it’s become popular as an alternative for consumers.

Q-Dairy and its products wound up gaining lots of extra support from consumers, some of whom wrote in online public debate that both the farmers' organization and Tine should be "ashamed" of themselves. PHOTO: Q-Dairy / Kavli

Q-Dairy also branched into juice, cream and sour cream products but it doesn’t make butter, so couldn’t offer any consumer relief when Tine failed to supply the market and set off Norway’s now internationally known butter shortage. Now many consumers clearly wish Q-Dairy would make butter as well, if only to have an alternative to Tine.

“Arrogant,” “petty” and “childish” were among the adjectives being used to describe Bondelaget in online public debate on Tuesday. Its move was being viewed as a boycott of both the hotel and Q-Dairy, and it stirred up criticism. NRK’s story on its website attracted comments that bashed both Bondelaget and Tine, characterizing them as “whiney” and threatened by competition, and drummed up sympathy and support for Q-Dairy.

“Bondelaget clearly shows us here that they want the worst possible offer for Norwegian consumers,” wrote one contributor. “You’d think Bondelaget would care about how Norwegians view farmers in general, but here their organization shows us that they’re blowing off the value of the farmers’ reputation. It’s about time Bondelaget tries to grow up and be taken seriously. They’re out of touch with the rest of the population.”

“OK, now the majority of us must buy as much Q-milk as possible,” wrote one contributor. Another called Bondelaget’s move “idiotic.”

Pledging allegiance
Ellingsbø of Bondelaget claimed the group has a goal of promoting the largest possible allegiance to agricultural cooperatives. Some farmers dislike it when other farmers sell their products outside the cooperatives and market regulators like Tine and, in the case of meat, Gilde. That’s why Ellingsbø felt it was correct to meet at a hotel that buys its milk from Tine.

“This isn’t an attempt to avoid Q-Dairy,” he claimed. Others weren’t so sure. “Our milk comes from good Norwegian cows and from many of Bondelaget’s members,” Bent Myrdahl, chief executive of Q-Dairy, told NRK. “If this is a boycott, we think it’s sad.” He said competition is good for the farmers, too, when they can sell their milk to another dairy instead of just Tine. Bondelaget, he said, should look positively on the opportunities presented by a rival dairy like Q-Milk, “not just see us as a threat.”

Torgeir Silseth, of the Choice Hotels chain that runs Quality Hotel Hafjell, called the farmers’ move “sad, unfortunate and rather strange.” He noted that Bondelaget organizes farmers who produce milk for both Tine and Q-Dairy, “so I can’t understand why they’re using this form of a protest action.”

Silseth said Choice, meanwhile, recently started buying its meat from the dominant meat cooperative Gilde, instead of from the smaller producer Spis, which could have evened the score for farmers promoting the co-ops. Most importantly though, added Silseth: “As a major purchaser we have to go out to bid, and those who can deliver the best products at the best price will win. That’s the future-oriented and professional way of doing business in Norway now.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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