Wiped out? Svalbardbutikken increases prices, runs out of toilet paper; figuring out why reveals more madess

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A packet of salmon fillets costing about 40 kroner a few weeks ago now costs more than 70. A whole frozen chicken selling for about 50 kroner now costs more than 90. And for a couple of days you couldn’t buy toilet paper at any price.

Price increases – usually not as drastic as those above, but significantly exceeding inflation and Norway’s consumer-price index for food during the past year – have appeared at Svalbardbutikken in recent weeks. Not all of them are reflected on the price tags – a tube of mayonnaise supposedly selling for 23 kroner, for example, rings up for ten kroner more at the register.

But lest this all seems bad, at least Norway’s oil wealth fund is raking in the dough thanks to those higher salmon prices.

So what the heck is going on? In short, several things at once.

Prices at Longyearbyen’s only major supermarket are always fluctuating, but every so often a broader range of increases occur. The market price of salmon and some other items has soared everywhere lately. And while not having TP – and, perhaps equally stinky to some, Easter candy – is a bummer it’s just one of those Svalbard shipping snafus that explains why certain shelves (cookies and tortillas, among others, as of this writing) are empty at times.

Nearly all prices at Svalbardbutikken are determined by the parent company Coop Norge, said Morten Helliksen, the store’s administrative director. While price-tracking sites show mainland stores aren’t necessarily following the same price trends for identical products, he said there are additional factors to consider such as the higher deliver costs to Svalbard.

But he noted some of the most eye-catching increases definitely aren’t unique to here.

“The higher salmon prices are all over Norway,” he said.

To top it off, buying many of those items has been problematic in recent weeks since they have been absent from shelves due to vast gaps in entire product lines. The store made headlines throughout Norway when it ran out of toilet paper early last week and plenty of locals were grumbling about a notable lack of Easter candy heading into the holiday week.

The shortage of toilet paper and others items was resolved last Tuesday when a cargo ship arrived – although in true Murphy’s Law fashion it was among the latter items unloaded.

“I bow my head and apologize for it,” Helliksen told Svalbardposten. “What I can assure you is that we’re do everything we can to make sure as little as possible is missing as we go into Easter.”

But while some Easter candy was in the store this week, it was hardly a bountiful harvest. Also, various individual items ranging from peanut butter to various brands of pasta have been absent or appeared only spottily the past few weeks.

Helliksen said interruptions in flight or boat deliveries often results in a backlog that requires time to catch up. A similar shortage on shelves occurred in January when several mail flights were cancelled due to weather.

An informal and unscientific request for comments on a local Facebook page resulted in numerous random examples of notable increases in everything from frozen pizzas to tea bags both here and on the mainland. But those observations and a weekly check of grocery prices on the mainland by the consumer website enhver.no show vast inconsistencies – both in terms of the price of items and how mainland prices compare to Svalbard.

A package of cheese-filled hotdogs and bottles of yellow mustard both cost roughly a third less on the mainland than at Svalbardbuttiken, for example, but if you want to drink a can of Coke as well it’ll cost eight kroner in Svalbard – a price that has remained consistent for years – and roughly twice that on the mainland. And the recent local price hike in a specific frozen chicken means you can now purchase the identical item for about one-third less at the Mix kiosk across the street (where prices are typically moderately higher across the board).

At the same time, it’s worth mentioning it’s still possible to get a day’s worth of calories at Svalbardbutikken (nutritionally balanced, no less) at “old” prices that are absurdly cheap for Svalbard. A huge box of generic (X-tra brand) corn flakes still costs ten kroner, as does a packet that makes a family portion of tomato soup. A one-kilo package of generic spaghetti is one kroner more and it can be doused in sauce that costs all of eight kroner. Bags of frozen brussels sprouts and bottles of oil, or frozen edamame soy beans, for a few kroner more to satisfy both trendy and nutritional cravings. For those just wanting a junk food indulgence during a Netflix-and-chill evening, massive bags of generic french fries are also selling for the 19 kroner price that’s been in place for years.

Statistics Norway reports food prices rose 2.6 percent in 2016, which is lower than the consumer price index which grew by 3.6 percent during the same period. But various news reports note exceptional examples, including an article by the fishing industry publication Undercurrent News headlined “Norway’s sovereign fund boosted by soaring salmon prices.”

“Soaring prices for salmon exports helped Norway’s domestic sovereign fund produce a return of 7.1 percent in 2016, beating the market average by 1.2 percentage points,” the article states.

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