German discount chain Penny is temporarily raising the prices of nine products to include the hidden climate cost. However, the awareness campaign earns the retailer accusations of greenwashing.
The extra cost is significant: Maasdam cheese has become 94 % more expensive, mozzarella 74 %, fruit yogurt 31 % and Viennese sausage has almost doubled in price in all 2150 German Penny stores. With this action around ‘true pricing’, the retailer says it wants to inform consumers about the impact these products have on climate, water, soil and health.
“We do everything we can to make sure you always buy cheaply from us. But we also have to think about tomorrow and want to do something good for the environment together with you: until 5 August 2023, we are collecting an environmental fee for nine of our products”, Penny says on its website. The company has asked the University of Greifswald and the Technical University of Nuremberg to calculate the hidden true cost for each of the products involved.
The project is a follow-up to an earlier campaign Penny set up three years ago in one Berlin store. Back then, customers did not really have to pay those higher prices: they were just posted for customers’ information on the shelves. That is different now: the retailer does charge the “true prices” with the extra profit going to a good cause: the organisation Zukunftsbauer, which supports family farms in the Alps.
Other farmers are not too pleased with the discount chain’s action, however: “The Penny campaign around true costs is mainly a greenwashing project carried out at farmers’ expense by a discounter, which otherwise has little interest in fair prices”, says Bernhard Krüsken, secretary-general of the German Farmers’ Association.
Consumer association Foodwatch speaks of a pure PR stunt: while Penny charges true prices for only nine of its products, the discounter continues to push prices down to a minimum for other environmentally damaging foods, the organisation claims.
Other consumer and environmental organisations are more positive, but see the initiative as only a first step. “Supermarket action must be followed by fundamental measures. The supermarket chains are as responsible as the federal government”, Greenpeace’s agricultural expert Matthias Lambrecht added.
Penny’s stunt is reminiscent of a test Albert Heijn conducted in the Netherlands earlier this year: in three Albert Heijn To Go branches, shoppers could voluntarily choose to pay the true price of a cup of coffee. That experiment too received some criticism for its non-committal nature.