Quality Differences: Food Products in Eastern and Western Europe

Written by on February 19, 2017 in Bulgaria, Business, Economy, Latest - 1 Comment

Some 12 to 15 years ago, while staying in Sofia for the summer, I got thirsty one afternoon. Since I’m not a water drinker, I went to the local supermarket around the corner. An intriguing story so far, right? Don’t worry. It gets better.

As I entered that supermarket, I immediately focused on a plastic bottle containing a product I knew. It was Lift, a soft drink with apple flavour. There is something I have to add here: I am German and in my home country, we drink something called “Schorle” a lot, which is fruit juice mixed with sparkling water. It is a very refreshing drink, when the juice used is of good quality. In Germany, they also have Lift with apple flavour, in bottles which look exactly the same as the one I found in Sofia that day. The content of those bottles tastes like “Apfelschorle”, because that is what it is.

So, I purchased that cold bottle of Lift, at that Sofia supermarket, close to Blvd. Pencho Slavejkov, I went outside and opened it. I was expecting the same soothing, thirst-quenching sensation I had experienced so many times, on my home turf. During the millisecond it took to manoeuvre the bottle past my nose towards my mouth, I already noticed something was wrong, but I was too thirsty to react or take it slowly. After the first pull out of that bottle, I almost threw up. The fluid I had just swallowed tasted like chemistry of the worst kind. There was no apple flavour, the drink was far too sweet and not refreshing at all. I started wondering what the formula was and threw away that product, made by the Coca Cola Company. I have no clue whether they are still offering Lift in Bulgaria or whether they have reinvented the Bulgarian version. 

Anyway: That was the first time I became aware of the fact that the quality of one and the same product differs substantially, between western and eastern Europe.

Another example: Since my daughter like fried fish sticks a lot in Germany, I thought I could make some in Sofia as well. So I got a pack, from Billa. I don’t remember the brand, but it looked like something we had bought in Germany before. This product tasted as if those fish sticks had been stored in the trunk of a car for two months, at 45 degrees centigrade. By now, they offer pretty good fish sticks at Lidl.

Some cases become obvious when products, which were imported for years, are being made in the region all of a sudden. That is what might have happened with Cappy fruit juices, another Coca Cola Company product. In North America, they are called Minute Maid and Del Valle, in Europe it’s Cappy. About a year or two ago, the shape of those Cappy cardboard boxes offered in Bulgaria changed, along with the taste of their content. The quality seems to have decreased to a certain extent. Those juices taste more like sugar and water now, than they did before. But that is my personal opinion and I’m not a scientist.

While my conclusions are not scientific at all, others are. Less than a year ago, a Czech TV network had food products tested and compared. This was about food brands sold in the Czech Republic versus those offered across the border, in Austria. They found several differences, including a margarine brand containing 20% water in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but not a drop in Austria. Yes, it was the same brand.

Another difference they found was that western European manufacturers had reduced their use of hydrogenated oils and unhealthy transfats, for products sold in western Europe. As you might have guessed, they did use more of those ingredients in eastern Europe.  

Politicians from several countries were furious. A Czech MP in Brussels sent an official inquiry to the European Commission in 2015, asking which mechanisms Europe could use in order to eliminate those quality differences. He got an answer, worded in a way only E.U. diplomats could have thought of. One free sample: “With regard to the chemical composition of goods, sector-specific Union harmonisation legislation aim at ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment.” What they wanted to say, in layman’s terms: “We don’t give a damn about quality differences, as long as the product does not harm anyone’s health and all regulations are adhered to. And now shut up.”

Sure, there are huge quality differences between products of different brands produced in different regions. E.g. several tuna products in cans made down here would never be accepted in western Europe. The same applies to juices, butter or yellow cheese. On the other hand, vegetables are so much better in Bulgaria than they are in north-western Europe. But those are just differences, meaning if people really want to buy and consume low quality products, they have the right to do so, while the manufacturers and stores have the right to offer them, as long as they don’t harm anyone. On the other hand, when we buy a high quality product we know, which turns out to be a bluff package in a certain way, this amounts to a scandal.

By Imanuel Marcus




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One Comment on "Quality Differences: Food Products in Eastern and Western Europe"

  1. Stephen Yarrow February 19, 2017 at 9:49 AM · Reply

    I prefer to import electrial applinces from Germany or the UK as I belive some of the goods sold in Bulgaria are sub standard.

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