Website for Comparing Grocery Prices Launches in Iceland

Verðgáttin

A new website where consumers can compare the prices of food items in three major grocery chains in Iceland has officially launched. The website features around 80 food staples and prices are updated daily. RÚV reported first.

Verðgáttin, as the website is called, shows the prices of products at three major grocery chains: Bónus, Krónan, and Nettó. Products include basics such as butter, bread, vegetables, fruit, and meat products where each brand is compared across all three chains. A browse through the prices reveals that for many products, the difference is no greater than a single króna: cream, for example, costs ISK 709 at Bónus but ISK 710 at Krónan and Nettó. The difference is more dramatic for a loaf of bread from the producer Mylla, however, sold at ISK 455 in Bónus but ISK 556 at both Krónan and Nettó. Grocery stores submit prices to the website daily, meaning that consumers will also be able to see the price changes over time.

While inflation measured 10.2% in Iceland over the past year, the price of many food staples has risen at higher rates. The price of dairy products, for example, rose 16% over the past year.  On Monday, the government of Iceland introduced a series of measures to fight inflation, a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, as well as reducing the salary increases of senior government officials.

The website is part of an agreement between businesses and the Icelandic Centre for Retail Studies (Rannsóknarsetur Verslunarinnar, or RSV) to closely monitor the development of the price of essential consumer goods and was partially funded by the Ministry of Culture and Trade.

Bónus Lengthens Opening Hours, Gives Mascot Controversial Makeover

As of Friday, Bónus will have longer opening hours. Vísir reports that the extension was announced to customers at the same time that the discount grocery chain unveiled that its mascot, the iconic Bónus pig—an off-kilter, droopy-eyed swine that appeared to be recovering from a hard night out—had undergone a makeover. But while the later shopping hours will undoubtedly be welcomed, not all locals are equally enthused about the popular porker’s facelift.

Bónus CEO Guðmundur Marteinsson says the chain extended its hours in response to calls from consumers. “This is the complaint we receive most often,” he explained. “But we’re cost-conservative and opening hours are part of the cost. But by keeping the opening hours within reasonable limits—we’re not extending them by much—we believe we can implement this without increasing the cost too much. Prices won’t change because of this adjustment.”

Previously, Bónus closed at 6:30 pm. From now on, however, seven Bónus locations will be open until 8:00 pm every day: in the capital area, Smáratorg, Skeifan, Spöngin, Fiskislóð, and Mosfellsbær, as well as Helluhraun in Hafnarfjörður and Langholt in Akureyri. The remaining locations will be open until 7:00 pm. In addition, Bónus will open an hour earlier on Sundays, or 10:00 am.

‘He was always a bit cockeyed’

The original Bónus mascot, via Facebook

Remarking on the controversial mascot transformation, Guðmundur said, “We’ve just streamlined him a little—it isn’t that big a change. We took out one or two lines that it’s always looked like we forgot to erase when he was initially designed,” he continued, pointing to a crinkle on the Bónus pig’s nose and an extra line on his back.

More dramatic, however, is the adjustment of the pig’s left eye. “He was always a bit cockeyed,” Guðmundur said. “But as I see it, this is part of our evolution.”

The brand’s font has also been adjusted, moving from a blocky serif font to a cleaner sans serif.

‘Long live the Bónus pig!’

Change does not always come easy, though, and some locals took to social media to mourn the mascot.

“What kind of sick joke is this?” wrote Hrafn Jónsson on Facebook. “You take one of the most iconic pigs of all time and mess with it? […] What kind of personality-less impostor is this?”

“Why can’t *anything* be left alone in this country?” tweeted @siggiodds. “What is the point/goal? Take the nuance, the history, and the humor away so you’re left with just an empty, generic shell?”

Rex Beckett

The transformation has also already inspired several memes. “Long live the Bónus pig!” proclaimed Rex Beckett on Facebook, screen-capping the messages she sent directly to the company. “I just wanted to say that I am extremely sad about the decision to change the Bónus Piggy’s look,” she wrote. “He was a delightful little weirdo with such a fun personality and his wonky eye made everyone happy. […] Please let us hang onto our old friend.”

COVID-19 Restrictions in Reykjavík: Less Traffic and More Online Shopping

There was 21% less traffic in Reykjavík last week compared to the same week in 2019, according to figures from the Road and Coastal Administration. Tightened COVID-19 restrictions are likely the reason. The statistics reflect a similar drop that occurred in March 2020, when restrictions during the first local wave of the pandemic were tightest. Online grocery retailers have seen a surge in customers in the past two weeks, also comparable to the increase seen last March.

COVID-19 Restrictions were tightened across Iceland on Monday last week following a rise in domestic case numbers. Further restrictions were imposed on the Reykjavík capital area two days later, where the vast majority of Iceland’s active cases are concentrated. The measures are similar to those imposed in March, including a 20-person cap on gatherings and the closure of gyms, bars, and swimming pools. The decrease in traffic last March also measured 21% as compared to March of 2019. A week-to-week comparison of traffic between 2020 and 2019 shows a decrease in most weeks throughout this year.

RÚV also reports an increase in online grocery shopping, reflecting similar trends in March of this year. “We are experiencing a huge rise in demand [in online shopping and delivery] in light of this new epidemic,” Ásta Sigríður Fjeldsted, CEO of grocery chain Krónan, stated. “It has just been increasing in the past few months and there’s been a real explosion in the last two weeks.” Online grocery retailer Heimkaup’s CEO says the company has experienced a 400% increase in demand and has had to hire new staff.

Upwards of 140% Difference on Food Prices Throughout Country

Food prices vary as much as 140% depending on where in Iceland you’re doing your grocery shopping. This per a recent price survey conducted by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ÁSI).

ÁSI compared prices on 103 products sold at fifteen small grocers in rural areas. Fifty-six of the 103 surveyed products had a price difference of 60 – 140% between the highest and lowest listed prices on specific items. Twelve products had a difference of over 140%. This is especially concerning because many of the shops surveyed are located in isolated locations and are the only viable option for people living in the area.

As one example of a significant price difference, a package of standard, sliced sandwich cheese (brauðóstur) had an ISK 1,373 [$10.07; €8.52] or 106% difference between the highest and lowest surveyed price per kilo. The price of a box of Cheerios varied ISK 1,183 [$8.68; €7.34], or 103%. There was a 100% difference, or ISK 1,597 [$11.72; €9.91], between the highest and lowest surveyed per-kilo prices of veal. Butter varied 50% in listed prices, different kinds of bread 60 – 70%, coffee pads 80%, and clothes detergent 156%.

Looking at broader categories, there was between 80 – 100% difference between the highest and lowest prices on meat and fish, around 100% difference on canned and dry goods, and 80 – 100% difference on prices of snacks, sodas, and other beverages. The largest price difference was generally found among fresh vegetables, which averaged a difference of 200 – 300%.

Product selection also varied significantly from shop to shop. The largest selection (94 out of 103 products) was found at Skagafirðingabúð in Skagafjörður, North Iceland; the smallest (24 of 103 products) at Versluninn Ásbyrgi in Northeast Iceland.

Small, independent grocers fighting to stay in the black

For a merchant’s perspective on the price variances, RÚV spoke to Jón Stefán Ingólfsson who has run Jónasbúð in Grenivík, North Iceland, for 25 years. He agreed that 140% was a bit much in terms of a price difference, but said there could be a number of reasons for this. He said the survey included small, privately owned shops in small towns, as well as shops that are part of larger grocery chains. The chain stores can buy their goods at wholesale prices, he explained, which means they can offer lower prices to their customers than the owners of private grocers.

Jón Stefán says he thinks it unlikely that the shops charging higher prices are attempting to gouge their customers, as most small businesses are constantly fighting to stay in the black.

See ÁSI’s full table of price comparison results and shops surveyed (in Icelandic) here.

Price Increases at Village Grocer Angers Community

A large proportion of the residents of Dalabyggð, a municipality in West Iceland have added their name to a list of people unhappy that the Krambúð grocery chain has taken over the local shop in the village of Búðardalur and immediately raised prices. RÚV reports that many have stopped shopping in the village in protest.

Búðardalur has a population of 254 and is the main administrative and service centre in the municipality, with a petrol station, restaurant, coffee shop, health clinic, vínbúð, tourist information centre, and small grocery. According to a recent survey taken by residents, prices at the grocery have gone up as much as 25% since Krambúð took over the store and as such, they are opting to drive as far as the town of Borganes, some 78 km [48 mi] away, to do their shopping.

According to Baldvin Már Guðmundsson, who collected the residents’ signatures, the change in ownership of the grocery took locals by surprise and it’s had a significant financial impact. “It’s not good for our community here,” he said. Some may raise an eyebrow at the thought of driving two hours roundtrip to do the grocery shopping, but Baldvin Már asserted that in the long run, it’s worth it. “It can really pay off when the price increases are so great on necessities.” And it’s not just locals who are unhappy with the prices, he continued—tourists also find the prices high.

All the locals want now is for the store to return to its original ownership and go back to being a Kjörbúð, a different grocery store chain.

“We were quite happy with Kjörbúðin,” recalled Baldvin Már. “There was a good selection, the prices were okay, and there was no reason to go to Borganes, for example. People were satisfied with the shop and had started coming over from further away and it was all fine and good. Then we had this misfortune.”

 

Icelandic Shops Reserve First Open Hour for Elderly and At-Risk Groups

Twelve Nettó grocery stores and 15 Kjörbúð stores across the country will reserve the first hour of opening, 9.00am to 10.00am, for the elderly, chronically ill, and others who face increased health risks from contracting COVID-19. The initiative begins tomorrow morning, and will continue through the country’s four-week gathering ban.

The stores have introduced increase hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Cashiers will use masks and gloves, and all contact surfaces will be regularly disinfected. Customers are asked to follow the gathering ban guidelines and maintain a two-metre distance from others. Contactless payment is recommended, and the use of cash discouraged.

The participating stores are listed below.

  • Nettó Borgarnes
  • Nettó Egilsstaðir
  • Nettó Grindavík
  • Nettó Hafnarfjörður
  • Nettó Hornafjörður
  • Nettó Hrísalundur (Akureyri)
  • Nettó Húsavík
  • Nettó Iðavellir (Reykjanesbær)
  • Nettó Ísafjörður
  • Nettó Lágmúli (Reykjavík)
  • Nettó Salavegur (Kópavogur)
  • Nettó Selfoss
  • Kjörbúðin Búðardalur
  • Kjörbúðin Blönduós
  • Kjörbúðin Bolungarvík
  • Kjörbúðin Dalvík
  • Kjörbúðin Djúpavogur
  • Kjörbúðin Eskifjörður
  • Kjörbúðin Fáskrúðsfjörður
  • Kjörbúðin Garður
  • Kjörbúðin Grundarfjörður
  • Kjörbúðin Neskaupsstaður
  • Kjörbúðin Ólafsfjörður
  • Kjörbúðin Reykjahlíð (Mývatn)
  • Kjörbúðin Sandgerði
  • Kjörbúðin Seyðisfjörður
  • Kjörbúðin Siglufjörður
  • Kjörbúðin Skagaströnd
  • Kjörbúðin Þórshöfn