GOTHENBERG, Sweden—Consumers in Sweden recently alerted the Swedish Agriculture Board of suspicions that foreign strawberries were being repackaged as locally grown.
Around midsummer, strawberries are no joking matter for Swedes. The aroma of berries signals that the warm, pleasant summer has finally begun, and that the long, cold winter is a distant memory—for a time. And no midsummer feast is complete without three essential elements on the table: pickled herring, early harvested new potatoes, and local strawberries.
The strawberry trade is in full swing in the summer drizzle in the small town of Skene in Southwest Sweden. Ingela Klintenberg, a middle-aged woman out shopping for strawberries, recounts a visit to the larger town of Varberg, where she found cheap berries.
“I got my money out to buy a box, but I noticed the color wasn’t right. I smelled them, and they had no aroma,” Klintenberg said.
“It said ‘Swedish berries’ on the box, but they weren’t Swedish,” she added, disapprovingly.
Other consumers have noticed that boxes of some cheaper, so-called Swedish berries, lack information about the grower that is normally included.
The Board of Agriculture says it has received several complaints about suspected repackaging of strawberries, according to board spokesperson Tony P. Nilsson.
Nilsson says the lure to repackage strawberries is especially strong if the harvest comes late, and there are no Swedish strawberries for the traditional midsummer festival that falls after summer solstice in late June.
“It’s very difficult to prove” that a box labeled as “Swedish strawberries” came from somewhere else, says Nilsson. There’s no way to tell just by looking, but they can be analyzed.
“The water isotopes in strawberries have different properties, so it is possible to determine what water the strawberries were irrigated with, with a fairly high degree of precision,” says Nilsson.
The analysis is done in a laboratory in Germany, which stores information about water from different areas in Europe. The analysis cannot pinpoint where the berries were grown, but it can tell if they were grown in Sweden or not. It takes about three weeks to get results.
Berry grower Per-Olof Nilsson says he has seen very cheap strawberries for sale along the roadside. He says it’s difficult to prove that these supposedly Swedish berries are in fact repackaged foreign produce.
“It’s very bad. Of course, you shouldn’t do that,” he says. “Unfortunately, there is not much risk involved for those who do it, but I suppose it’s fraud. I haven’t heard of anyone being convicted of that.”
Per-Olof Nilsson sounds tired, which isn’t surprising considering the number of
strawberries and raspberries his farm produces and distributes in the short season.
“The situation differs from year to year,” he says, but on average, his annual turnover to supply tables across Sweden is about $1.4 million.
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