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TRADE

Norwegian price hunters swarm to Sweden

Eager to save money, Norwegian shoppers are streaming over the border in record numbers to avoid hefty domestic prices by instead stocking up on groceries in Sweden, new figures show.

Norwegian price hunters swarm to Sweden
Norwegian shopper Roger Knapper fills his trolley at the Nordby supermarket (File photo: Thomas Winje Øijord/Scanpix).

Over the last four quarters, Norwegians spent a total of 11.7 billion kroner ($2 billion) in Swedish stores, according to Statistics Norway.

While their till-filling neighbours gave Swedish retailers a welcome boost – figures were up nine percent on the previous 12-month period – Thomas Angell, trade director at Norway’s Enterprise Federation (Virke), expressed concern.

”Cross-border trade eats into turnover for Norwegian stores, leading to job losses in the grocery and trade sectors,” he said in a statement.

”Unfortunately, all the indications are that the cross-border trade will continue to grow as long as there’s a lot of money to be saved by shopping in Sweden.”

In the last year, the number of day trips from Norway to Sweden rose by four percent to a total of 6.7 million.

According to the Statistics Norway figures, five percent of Norwegians’ total grocery spend now goes to Sweden.

Reaping the benefits, the Nordby Centre on the Swedish side of the border posted record sales results this summer. Located just off the motorway from Oslo, Nordby is always thronged with Norwegians and is much bigger than any shopping centre in Norway, newspaper Aftenposten reports.

Concerned by a development that has gathered pace in recent years, Thomas Angell urged the government not to raise taxes on popular products in the October budget.

”The price differences between Norway and Sweden on popular goods like alcohol, tobacco products, chocolate, and sweets are at a critically high level,” he said.

”Norwegian politicians must now take cross-border trade seriously.”

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SHOPPING

‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing? 

The pandemic cut-off Norway from its neighbours, putting a temporary end to border shopping. Now ‘harryhandel’ trips are allowed again businesses in the country fear they will lose out as shoppers look abroad for cheaper groceries. 

Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge.
Will the return of border shopping have a negative affect on the country? Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge. Photo by Petter Bernsten/AFP.

In eastern Norway, particularly along the border with Sweden, cross-border shopping has long been common for residents looking for cheaper groceries and a better selection of products. 

Norway’s Covid-19 rules effectively put a stop to that until this summer. The closed border meant a record year for food and beverage sales in Norway. 

“Due to the fact that there was little action and that people did not travel, we noticed that our sales increased greatly during the entire period,” Øyvind Berg, production manager at Norwegian dairy firm Synnøve Finden, explained to public broadcaster NRK.

Now producers and supermarkets fear the impact of cross-border shopping being up and running again. 

“Our challenge is that we see that more than half of the food and beverage producers, i.e. the industrial companies, fear that they will lose market share because cross-border trade will return in full,” Petter Brubakk, director of food and beverage at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), informed NRK. 

The majority of those who go shopping across borders in Norway will do so in Sweden. However, in the north, some will also venture into Finland or Russia.

Further south people will also travel to Germany or Denmark. 

Why do people go to other countries for shopping? 

Overall the main appeal of cross-border shopping is that its much better for consumers than shopping domestically. 

Norway’s EEA agreement with the EU means that most foods, drinks, tobacco products, alcohol and other agricultural products are more expensive than they are within the EU as custom duties are required to import them into Norwegian supermarkets. 

Not just that, but there is a much wider selection of products than in Norway due to laws that protect Norwegian products. For example, cheeses such as Cheddar are more readily available, cheaper and generally of better quality in other countries than those found in Norway. 

READ MORE: What is ‘harryhandel’, and why do Norwegians love it so much?

Is border shopping a bad thing for Norway?

Norwegian businesses argue that crossing the border to shop affects the whole value chain, negatively impacting everyone from Norwegian farms and producers to supermarket employees, not just companies profit margins. 

“My advice is to encourage Norwegians to buy Norwegian food, and help secure Norwegian jobs throughout the value chain,” food and agriculture minister Sandra Borch told NRK. 

In addition, shopping domestically means more tax revenue for the Norwegian system to use to fund its generous welfare state. 

While shopping domestically protects domestic jobs, shopping abroad protects jobs there, which rely on people hopping the border to get their groceries. 

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions left a black hole in some of these economies reliant on shoppers from the Norwegian side of the border. For example, in Strömstad, a Swedish town close to the border where many travel to shop, unemployment rose by around 75 percent after Norway closed its borders with Sweden. 

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