“Due to a significant decline in sales”, international food company Danone is closing sites in Hungary, Germany and Italy, the company has announced on Wednesday.
Why is this interesting on this blog about Hungary’s politics?
Well, Danone has become a kind of a symbol of cheap “halálmiszer”. That’s a portmanteau of “halál” (death) and “élelmiszer” (food, “élet” means ‘life’, “szer” means ‘stuff, substance’).
One couldn’t buy that kind of artificial, chemical food in the justly condemned Communist dictatorship I grew up in. I’ll risk the statement that such “food” products, for example like Danone yogurts, were not sold in Hungary even before our joining the EU in 2004.
Here are a few of their deceiving marketing gimmicks Danone has been selling their cheap, and possibly unhealthy, stuff with:
- They substituted milk for something who-knows-what in their kefir in 2008 and then they kept selling it at the same price, in the same packaging. Okay, they had to reverse this quickly enough.
- Their 175 gram yogurts were reduced to 150 grams first and then to 125 grams… for the same price.
- Their big marketing campaign “Könnyű és finom” (Light and Tasty) was actually about removing fruit content from their fruit yogurts.
- The labels on their yogurts read like this: “Ingredients: milk, sour cherry substance 13% (sour cherry 60%, …)”
Let’s see what Wikipedia writes about the health effects of one of these ingredients, called Xanthan-gum:
Evaluation of workers exposed to xanthan gum dust found evidence of a link to respiratory symptoms
On May 20, 2011 the FDA issued a press release about SimplyThick, a food-thickening additive containing xanthan gum as the active ingredient, warning “parents, caregivers and health care providers not to feed SimplyThick, a thickening product, to premature infants.” The concern is that the product may cause necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
Xanthan gum may be derived from a variety of source products that are themselves common allergens, such as corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. As such, persons with known sensitivities or allergies to food products are advised to avoid foods including generic xanthan gum or first determine the source for the xanthan gum before consuming the food.To be specific, an allergic response may be triggered in people sensitive to the growth medium, usually corn, soy, or wheat For example, residual wheat gluten has been detected on xanthan gum made using wheat.This may trigger a response in people highly sensitive to gluten. Xanthan gum is a “highly efficient laxative,” according to a study that fed 15 g/day for 10 days to 18 normal volunteers. Some people react to much smaller amounts of xanthan gum with symptoms of intestinal bloating and diarrhea.
Danone is part of a bigger problem though: Hungary has been flooded with junk food by the West, often with stuff they couldn’t even sell in Western Europe, and people, either because of ignorance or because that’s what they can afford , feed on this junk. “Free market proponents” would argue that people vote with their money. I’d say the Hungarian state should protect Hungarians with administrative measures, too, from literally junk food.
I avoid shopping in Tesco supermarkets in Hungary because they suck so much. Shopping in British Tesco shops is fine with me. The icing on the cake is that prices don’t really differ so much… The difference often lies in the quality of goods these multinational companies sell in Hungary and in Western Europe.
Anyway, will Danone leave Hungary? That would be good riddance.