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