One of the biggest and scariest things about Finland is that food and drinks are ridiculously expensive and we are constantly being told that the biggest retail shops are efficient suppliers of these products.
The two big groups, the S-Group and Kesko together account for over 80% of the market and the State-owned Alko actually runs a monopoly of retail shops for selling alcoholic products. Monopolies are nice to have if you get to own them! They fix the prices – not the customers, who have no choice…
Your coresspondent is in Northern Italy in a tiny village some 40 km from the next biggest town and over 70 km from a small city, and over 120 km to the nearest bigger city. It sits between huge mountains with a small number of narrow roads.
You would think that food and drink would be expensive like Finland with tiny villages and long distances, but no! The cost of food is so low that you could fill 2 shopping bags with the same cost as one bag in Finland.
- Cheese and dairy products, for instance, can be purchased directly from 2 small cheese producers with over 20 varieties at a cost of between €7 and €15 a kilo. Milk is between €0,50 and €0.70 a litre.
- Ham and pork products, bacon and sausages can be purchased for under €10 a kilo.
- Fresh vegetable and fruit from local producers fill the stores at low prices – delicious apples, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries and pears are so low in price that it is easy to buy too much!
- Fresh fish here cost between €5 and €15 a kilo,o from passing vans that stop in the town every other day. the quality and selection are so much bigger than what we see in Finland.
- Wine and beer cost 50% less and more in restaurants that what we pay in Helsinki. A good bottle o.f wine is available in most restaurants for €15 and they also offer a home-made snaps for free after the meal! And buying good quality local wines from local shops here is a bargain compared to Finland.
- Bread is cheaper with huge selections – and it is all locally produced from local raw materials…
In all of these villages there are no big monopolies, there are no big chains, except for some smaller Co-op and Spar shops. The bars and restaurants are all family owned that operate 6 days a week with one “Rest Day” of “Ruhetag” in German in this German-speaking region.
In the Hütte, the cost of a delicious meal is between €5 and €15 per person – the lunch or dinner will be memorable because it will be delicious and filling – just what the doctored ordered after a 3-hour walk up the side of the mountain.
So whatever the bosses tell you about how the S-Group and Kesko are producing “the best value for money” for customers, just recall that this is far from the truth, and that they can easily be disproved by a flying visit to any village here in north Italy.