Was the promotion that sparked the infamous “Nutella riots” in French supermarkets actually against the law?
The DGCCRF, the body which investigates fraud at France's ministry of finance, announced on Monday it will open an investigation into the promotion launched by Intermarché supermarkets on the pots of Nutella that sparked the feeding frenzy, Le Parisien newspaper reports.
On January 25th shoppers in supermarkets across France were accused of “acting like animals” to try and get hold of discounted pots of spread.
By selling 950g pots of France's favourite chocolate spread for €1.41 instead of €4.70 – an “unprecedented” reduction of 70 percent – there are suggestions that Intermarché might have broken the country's strict laws on discounted goods.
Intermarché has so far declined to comment on the incidents that made headlines around the world, but Nutella were quick to react saying it “deplored the operation and its consequences” and pinned the blame for the scenes of hysteria firmly on the supermarket chain.
The selling of discounted food is highly regulated in France to prevent companies from selling it at a loss.
The consumer police at the DGCCRF will have to determine whether the Nutella offer was part of the general winter “sales” which allow for steep reductions or just a one-off offer on Nutella. They will also look at how much Intermarché bought the product for initially.
The law in France allows food to be discounted as part of the official “sales” under two conditions: that the products were bought at least one month before the beginning of the sales period and if it's considered a fair price.
If it is just a special offer then the discount price offered must not be an attempt at “product dumping” by the stores.
France's Minister of Agriculture and Food, Stephane Travert, has announced his his intention to fight against excessive discounts by limiting them to 34 percent of the purchase price paid by the stores.
He also announced he wants to see the end of supermarket offers such as “buy one – get one free” with the aim of “giving value back to products”.
The scenes of shoppers pushing and shoving each other to get their hands on a pot of Nutella shocked many around the world, as it all seemed very unlike the French.
The images – the like of which are more common in America on days like Black Friday when products are sold at huge discounts – also sparked some soul-searching in France.
Sociologist Gérard Mermet told Le Parisien that it showed that “solidarity no longer had a place in France.”
“I do not think we could have seen these scenes in Germany, where common sense exists more”.