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Lázár urges scrutiny of multinationals after ‘subjective’ report

The government should launch a probe of identically branded products in Hungary and Austria, Cabinet Chief János Lázár said Thursday, addressing the findings of a report by food safety authority Nébih suggesting that multinationals offer “lower-quality” products here. In a statement sent to the BBJ, a trade association rejected the report as “subjective.”

Cabinet Chief János Lázár  arrives at his regular press conference yesterday. (Photo: MTI / Tibor Illyés)

Hungarian government-friendly daily Magyar Idők yesterday cited a report by the National Food Chain Safety Office (Nébih) claiming that the authority had found discrepancies in the quality of well-known, identically branded products sold in Hungary and in neighboring Austria. Since the report was published yesterday, Magyar Idők has repeatedly dealt with the issue, claiming multinationals bring “rubbish” to Hungary.

The pro-government media mouthpieceʼs condemnation echoes inflammatory comments made last summer by Cabinet Chief János Lázár, who has been a vocal opponent of multinationals operating in the country. Last year he said he would be “content to chase multinationals away” from Hungary, as these companies “haul Europe’s rubbish” into the country, and suggested that it would be best if foreign food retail chains left.

The Nébih review included 24 products, the daily reported the authority as claiming. Nébih said that during the review, it was established that Nutella chocolate spread was smoother, Ritter Sport marzipan chocolate bars were softer and Landliebe rice pudding was creamier in Austria, Hungarian news agency MTI reported. Coca-Cola and Nesquik chocolate powder sold in Austria tasted better, the authority claims, while Austrian shoppersʼ Knorr powdered soup with meatballs and noodles had almost twice as many meatballs, the wire service reported.

Addressing the report yesterday, Lázár described the findings as a “scandal,” stressing that the Hungarian government should investigate the matter with priority. He also urged a broader probe of identically branded products in Hungary and Austria.

Association calls report ‘subjective’

The Hungarian Brand Association, the interest representation organization for the Hungarian FMCG sector, rejected the findings of the probe published in Magyar Idők, saying they derived from a “subjective” review, according to a statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal. The association said that differences in sensation when the products were consumed could be due to different expiry dates as well as to different conditions of storage.

The association insisted that brands here abide by all the necessary regulations related to production, and products are put on shelves in accordance with ethical norms. The association stressed that the probe did not uncover any differences in the actual ingredients of identical products, as in the majority of cases the products are manufactured in the same plants following the same recipes and methods, and using the same ingredients.

“Professionals of Nébih, during the review, uncovered subjective differences based on their senses, in spite of the identical ingredients,” the association said.

The association noted that in the case of products where differences were found in the ingredients, cultural preferences play a role, as well as the fact that products are delivered in different packaging and with different flavorings.

Additionally, if the basic ingredients derive from different sources, the flavor of a given product can naturally also vary. After the Nébih findings were published yesterday, Coca-Cola Hungary was reported as saying that because Hungarian-sourced ingredients are used for the syrup used in their product, the flavor can slightly vary, according to reports.