UPDATED: A senior manager in charge of purchasing at Norway’s dominant dairy conglomerate Tine was treated to travel, spa visits, gifts, 145 dinners and 246 rounds of drinks over a four-year period by a seller at Tetra Pak, the packaging firm that has Tine as its sole large customer in Norway. Suspicion of alleged bribery was so strong that Tine opted to report it to state economic crime unit Økokrim.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Friday afternoon that the travel receipts and weekly claims for reimbursement reveal that the Tetra Pak seller and the Tine executive took at least 30 trips together from the spring of 2011 to the fall of 2015. Sometimes they traveled alone, other times with spouses and other Tine employees. The trips went to Rio de Janeiro, London and Japan, among other destinations. Tetra Pak also picked up the 145 dinner bills that often included several other Tine employees.
Tine, a cooperative owned by farmers, controls an estimated 80 percent of the market in Norway for dairy products and juices and is the so-called state “market regulator” that controls production and sets prices that are aimed at yielding good returns for all players in the supply chain. Tine is protected by high tariffs on imports and has enjoyed a surprisingly good reputation in Norway but ran into serious trouble in 2011 when it failed to produce enough butter for the Norwegian market, leading to a severe butter shortage just before Christmas that caught international attention.
Tine’s chief executive, Hanne Refsholt, said the company was taking this new trouble seriously. “We want openness around this and we will assist Økokrim with all available information,” Refsholt wrote in a press release Friday. “We will go through our routines and make sure that our ethical guidelines are being followed.”
Lars Galtung, communications director at Tine, told state broadcaster NRK that once it was made aware of all the wining and dining, and verified it, “we found it so serious that we want Økokrim to investigate the legality of it.” DN reported over the weekend that Økokrim showed up unannounced at Tetra Pak’s offices in Oslo on Friday.
Eva Milton, communications director at Tetra Pak, confirmed that employees at the packaging firm were already being questioned. “Tine has been our customer for many years, so there clearly are relationships when business is carried out between two companies,” Milton told NRK. “Have there been dinners? Of course, that’s part of business, but we must see whether everything has been correctly accounted for regarding entertainment and meals.”
Tetra Pak is a Swedish firm that operates internationally, but DN reported that in Norway, it’s utterly dependent on its business with Tine. Fully 90 percent of its roughtly NOK 370 million in revenues in Norway in 2015, for example, came from Tine. Its major competitor for Tine’s business in Norway is Elopak, owned by the Norwegian investment company Ferd. Each company serves around 50 percent of Tine’s packaging needs.