April 28, 2020 / 4:02 PM / 3 months ago

Sweden’s sweet tooth turns sour as coronavirus stirs hygiene fears

(This April 28 story corrects to show 1.8 billion SEK for 2019 is group revenue, not Sweden only, in paragraph 8)

Pick & Mix bins are pictured in Willy's supermarket, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Stockholm, Sweden, April 27, 2020. Picture taken April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Colm Fulton

By Colm Fulton

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - While the coronavirus has not stopped Swedes from eating in restaurants, drinking in pubs or playing organised sport, it has halted the country’s love affair with pick & mix candy.

Swedes chew through almost 33 pounds of candy per person each year - around 15 bags of sugar - more than any other nation, according to a 2018 study by the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

Displays of colourful sweets, marshmallows and liquorice are prominent sections of most Swedish supermarkets. However, candy-crazy Swedes now give these a wide berth.

Although health authorities have not cautioned the public against pick & mix, shoppers fear touching the well-handled shovels and bins of loose sweets.

“I see a lot of hesitation. People hanging around the candy display, but then walking away, sometimes grabbing something pre-packaged instead,” said Filip Herrstedt, 22, a supermarket assistant at Coop in central Stockholm.

Swedish sweet producer Cloetta said last week the coronavirus had “significantly reduced” demand for its pick & mix candy, as it issued a profit warning for the second quarter.

“I have stopped because of corona,” said Saija Hiltunen while shopping at Coop. “In my head, I can see the virus on the plastic shovels. It feels stupid to buy it now.”

Cloetta has cautioned that it does not expect its Swedish pick & mix business to break even by year end. The candy segment generated group sales of 1.8 billion Swedish crowns (146.49 million pounds) in 2019, a third of which in Sweden.

Cloetta is seeking to boost sales of pre-packaged candy to cushion the blow, but Anna Bartholf, the company’s marketing director, conceded that pick & mix held a special and not easily supplanted place in many Swedes’ hearts.

“We as Swedes have a Saturday tradition of treating ourselves and our families with “lördagsgodis” (Saturday candy),” she said.

Hiltunen said pre-packaged sweets were not an authentic replacement: “The experience is different ... there’s something comforting about the ritual of picking it yourself.”

Reporting by Colm Fulton; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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