Norway’s food now priciest in Europe

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It probably comes as no surprise to Norwegian consumers, but a new survey confirms that food price levels in Norway are on average 63 percent higher than they are in 28 European countries. Norway tops price statistics compiled by the EU’s statistics service Eurostat.

Trade Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen and his staff continue to probe why prices for non-alcoholic drinks and food remain high in Norway, and selection relatively poor. A new survey places price levels as the highest in all of Europe, now ahead of Switzerland as well. PHOTO: NFD/Trond Viken

Norway’s own statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) also pointed out that food price levels in Norway are much higher than in the other Scandinavian and Nordic countries: 40 percent higher than in Sweden and 25 percent higher than in Denmark. They’re also 36 percent higher than in Finland and 10 percent higher than in Iceland.

SSB stressed that “price levels” within the various groups of foods and alcohol-free beverages are influenced by more than just price alone. Factors including changes in consumption habits, consumer preferences and political priorities play a role. In Norway, for example, politicians have for years granted farmers high levels of subsidy and protection from foreign competition, not least by limiting imports and regulating the meat and dairy markets to support ongoing production around the country and create work in outlying areas.

The Eurostat study showed that Norwegian price levels for milk, cheese and eggs, for example were fully 74 percent higher than the European average. Dairy products in particular are strictly regulated and relatively expensive in Norway. They may become even more expensive as farmers face a need to scale down production following a loss of export subsidy for milk used to make Jarlsberg Cheese, a rise in imported cheese and declining consumption of milk itself.

This chart puts Norway at the top of the list over European countries’ food and non-alcoholic beverage price levels, based on the most recent price data from 2018. GRAPHIC: Eurostat

Price levels for bread and grain products, meanwhile, were 67 percent higher than the European average and 58 percent higher for fruit and vegetables. Meat price levels were 55 percent than the European average while fish and other seafood, of which Norway has a bounty, logged the lowest difference at just 9 percent over the European average. SSB noted that compares to price levels for seafood in Greece, Italy and Ireland, countries that in general are less expensive to live in than Norway.

Norwegian prices for other food products and beverages, however, soared over those in other other European countries. They were nearly double the European average for sauces, spices and processed baby food, for example, are 81 percent higher for non-alcoholic drinks.

Farmers aren’t only to blame
Government officials have long tried to pinpoint the reasons for Norway’s famously high food prices, which in some areas have slightly declined or remained fairly stable over the past two years judging from prices at the grocery store. The protection for farmers and resulting high prices for milk or lamb meat despite overproduction, for example, isn’t the only factor.

Officials also cite Norway’s powerful concentration of grocery retailers and wholesalers, which can reduce competition. Just a few companies dominate the grocery market and can more easily set higher prices for everything from imported cranberry juice to brie. Norway also has higher costs levels regarding what merchants, for example, must pay for commercial rent and their employees. All those factors remain under another investigation into food prices in Norway that was launched by the government last year.

Higher wages in Norway, meanwhile, have long helped both farmers, wholesalers and retailers justify their relatively high food and beverage prices. They can likely do so again, with Eurostat’s study showing that Norwegians still use a relatively small portion of total household expenditure on food, at around 11 percent. Only six countries in Europe were lower.

Cheapest in North Macedonia
SSB cited that Europe’s lowest price levels for food and non-alcoholic beverages were found in North Macedonia. The next-highest price levels, after Norway, were found in Switzerland, which, like Norway, has never joined the EU. The lowest price levels among EU members were in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.

Many Norwegians continue to respond to high prices at home by driving over the border to shop in Sweden. A hike in Norway’s tax on products containing sugar has further sent Norwegians by the droves to Sweden, where they can be seen pushing grocery carts full of cans of soda.

For the full report from Eurostat, click here (external link to the EU’s Eurostat website.)

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund