Frederic Vincent, spokesman for John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, dismissed the claims stating that companies can tailor their products for different countries as they wish, as long as they adhere to EU legislation.
His comments follow media reports about a survey conducted by the Slovak Association of Consumers. The group tested a variety of labelled food products bought in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
It found that although products had the same name and in some cases were made in the same factory, those “affected by lower quality” were meant for “new” EU member states. Examples include the use of cheaper sweeteners, according to EurActiv.com.
The claims have also prompted Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov to write to Dalli calling for the issue to be investigated.
Vincent confirmed that Naydenov had written to the commissioner but did not disclose the details and said a reply would be sent to him first.
He also told FoodNavigator.com: “It is food companies which decide what to place on which national market within the EU.
“Companies are free to adapt their products for different national markets, using different ingredients and selling them at different final prices.
“This can be seen in a variety of cases. For example, well-known chocolate brands often formulate their product differently to accommodate different tastes in the United Kingdom and Ireland on one hand and the continent on the other.”
He added: “There is no obligation for a company to market an identical product under the same package or brand in all EU Member States as long as EU legislation (labelling/food information, and safety of the product) is respected.”
Brands under the spotlight
One of the big brands included in the survey was Coca Cola. It was claimed that varieties of the beverage sold in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania contained isoglucose made of corn, which costs less than the sugar (sacharose) typically used in the products for Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic, according to EurActiv.com.
However, in response, Ibolya Szabo, senior communications manager at Coca Cola Europe, is quoted by EurActiv as saying: “Our products are made to the same high quality across Europe and the world, based on the recipe we have been using for 125 years.
“In some countries, we use different types of sweetener, but this has no impact on the quality of the product.”
The company also told the website that isoglucose was used in the United States as well and claimed that the discrepancy was a result of technical considerations in the production process.