Hungary and Slovakia cry foul over multinational product differences

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Knorr powdered soup with meatballs and noodles has almost twice as many meatballs in Austria than it does in neighbouring Hungary. © iStock
Knorr powdered soup with meatballs and noodles has almost twice as many meatballs in Austria than it does in neighbouring Hungary. © iStock

Related tags: Hungary, Austria

Consumers in Hungary on getting a raw deal on the food they buy, at least compared to those just across the border in Austria - and they aren’t alone.

Nébih, Hungary’s food safety authority, looked at 24 products sold in both countries by international retailers like Lidl and Aldi and found that the local versions weren’t as good.

Manner wafers, for example, are “less crunchy”, ​whilst the Nutella on offer isn’t as “mellow”​ as the Austrian equivalent, according to a report published in the pro-government daily paper Magyar Idők​ (Hungarian Times in English).

Hungarian news agency MTI also cites the report, highlighting that Ritter Sport marzipan chocolate bars are softer and Landliebe rice pudding is creamier in Austria. Coca-Cola and Nesquick chocolate powder also tastes better in Austria, Nébih claimed, whilst Knorr powdered soup with meatballs and noodles has almost twice as many meatballs.

"I was dismayed upon reading this brief report,"​ János Lázár, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, told a news conference. "I think this is the biggest scandal of the recent past."

Lázár has been an outspoken critic of multinational companies that “haul Europe’s rubbish​” into the country and the government has announced it will now expand its review.

The Hungarian Brand Association, which represents the country’s FMCG sector, rejected the findings.

The association told the Budapest Business Journal that the review was “subjective”​ and that the differences in sensation could be down to storage and expiry dates. “Professionals of Nébih, during the review, uncovered subjective differences based on their senses, in spite of the identical ingredients,”​ the association said in a statement.

In statements to the local press, the manufacturers named in the report stressed they used the same recipes. A Nestlé spokesman told FoodNavigator that "there is no difference in the recipes used to produce our Nesquick products in either country. Given this, we are engaging with the Hungarian authorities to clarify exactly what differences were detected."

This isn’t the first time ‘differences’ have been identified in supposedly identical products. Food inspectors in Slovakia last week found that about half the foodstuffs tested displayed significant discrepancies in composition compared to those on offer in Austria. Lower meat content, higher fat levels and more artificial sweeteners and preservatives were among the differences, according to a report in The Slovak Spectator. The agriculture minister Gabriela Matečná will now reportedly raise the issue at the European level.

Last year, the ministry of agriculture in the Czech Republic attempted to do the same. It claimed companies including Pepsi, Danone and Coca-Cola were manufacturing brands using cheaper, poor quality ingredients for the Eastern and Central European markets.

Experts have told FoodNavigator in the past​ that the issue is “ethically problematic but not illegal”.

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