Big companies are selling better food in Austria than they sell in Hungary, even though the brands are supposed to be the same, the Hungarian government said yesterday (16 February).
Hungary’s food safety authority, NEBIH, looked at 24 products sold in both Hungary and Austria by international retailers like Lidl and Aldi. It found, among other things, that the local version of Manner wafers was less crunchy and the domestic Nutella not as mellow as the Austrian counterpart.
“I was dismayed upon reading this brief report,” Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff, told a news conference. “I think this is the biggest scandal of the recent past.”
Lazar said the government would begin a large-scale review of more products available in Hungary. He declined to say what specific action Budapest might take.
Hungary is not alone in its concern. Neighbouring Slovakia’s food quality watchdog said this week it had found differences in taste, look and composition in nearly a dozen products sold locally and in Germany and Austria.
The latest analysis, conducted by the Agriculture Ministry and the State Veterinary and Food Administration (ŠVPS), revealed that about half of the foodstuffs tested displayed significant differences in their composition, the Slovak Spectator reported. The agriculture minister said she will raise the issue at the European level.
“Customers expect the same quality from the same brand, regardless of the country of production or purchase,” Agriculture Minister Gabriela Matečná told a press conference on Tuesday (14 February).
However, she may face a problem, observers warn: EU authorities are not much interested in the quality – as opposed to the safety – of food produced and sold across its member states.
The ŠVPS inspectors tested a range of 22 foodstuffs sold in retail chains in both Slovakia (specifically in Bratislava) and Austria (in the border towns of Kittsee and Hainburg) in November and December 2016.
They picked various kinds of food, including dairy, meat and fish products, chocolates, baked goods, cheese and drinks. As well as checking the packaging, including information about the composition and weight in grams, they also analysed the colour, flavour and smell.
In their analytical tests, the inspectors focused on quality parameters like the content of meat, fats or proteins (depending on which product was tested), and additional substances (like sweeteners and colouring).
“Up to one half of the products contained differences that significantly impact their quality,” Matečná said. These were mainly, with respect to the products sold in Slovakia, a lower proportion of meat, and a higher proportion of fats, more artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and a lower weight in grams, she added.
Tests comparing the quality of foods sold in Western and Eastern Europe were carried out previously in 2011, commissioned by the Slovak Association of Consumers. It tested a selection of labelled food products purchased from supermarkets in eight EU member states: Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Among the selected foodstuffs were beverages, chocolate, pepper and coffee.
Those tests also confirmed that multinational companies typically vary the quality of the products that they ship to different European countries under the same brand. The only product that proved to be of identical quality across all the samples tested was Milka chocolate.
The European Commission, however, responded to the findings by saying that the accusations were baseless, and stating that multinational companies were free to adapt their products to different markets.