Bubbling over from success

The Local’s series Made in Germany presents the best the country has to offer, including eastern success story Rotkäppchen sparkling wine.

Bubbling over from success
Photo: DPA

From luxury cars to precision machinery, “Made in Germany” still means quality craftsmanship around the world. But the Teutonic attention to detail goes far beyond engineering. This series will feature a diverse array of products from both well-known German brands and less famous firms. But no matter big or small, all of them are focused on being the best at what they do.

Cornering almost half of the German market, Rotkäppchen-Mumm sparkling wines are one of the former East Germany’s biggest success stories. But the history of the Freyburg an der Unstrut-based company goes back to 1856, when the brothers Moritz and Julius Kloss and their friend Carl Foerster opened a wine shop in this town in Sachsen-Anhalt. Seeing demand, they soon began producing their very own sparkling wines known as Sekt in German.

After a trademark dispute in 1894, they named their company Rotkäppchen because of the red bottle cap they used. (Rotkäppchen means, literally, ‘Little Red Cap,’ and is also the name of the heroine in the Brothers’ Grimm story, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’). Indeed, since then, the company’s fortunes have risen and fallen in a series of twists every bit as thrilling as Red Riding Hood’s adventures. And like the fairytale’s plucky heroine, the company has always bounced back buoyantly from difficult circumstances.

Celebrated by Kaiser Wilhelm II, the sparkling wine made its way to officers’ messes in the first years of the 20th century. But the inflation of the Weimar period hit hard: in 1923, a bottle of sparkling wine cost 1,928,000 marks. East Germany nationalized the company after Word War II, and it thrived again. Communist leader Erich Honecker used the home-grown bubbly to toast Fidel Castro, and production peaked in 1987 at 15 million bottles.

The fall of the Iron Curtain was accompanied by a dramatic fall in sales: in 1990, Rotkäppchen sold only 1.8 million bottles. But a series of upgrades and investments made both before 1989 and in the years following reunification got the company back on track.

In early 2002, Rotkäppchen did what few other East German companies had managed when they took over the West German-based brands Mumm, Jules Mumm and MM Extra. In 2003, Rotkäppchen-Mumm Sektkellereien, as they are now called, did it again, buying out another West German firm, Geldermann sparkling wines. In 2006, the acquisition of Kloss & Foerster followed, as did the buyout of Eckes Spirits and Wine.

Today, sparkling wine lovers curious about the history of this German company can visit the original cellar in Freyburg. There, they can pick up a bottle of the traditional sparkling wine, or try one of the newer products, like the Rotkäppchen dry Reisling. (They can also check out Germany’s largest carved cuvee vat, which was built for the company in 1896 using 25 oak trees.)

Meanwhile, production just keeps climbing: in 2009, Rotkäppchen-Mumm produced 211.9 million bottles and employed 529 people. Turnover keeps growing, too, with the company making €778 million in sales last year, their largest figure to date.


‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing? 

The pandemic cut-off Norway from its neighbours, putting a temporary end to border shopping. Now ‘harryhandel’ trips are allowed again businesses in the country fear they will lose out as shoppers look abroad for cheaper groceries. 

Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge.
Will the return of border shopping have a negative affect on the country? Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge. Photo by Petter Bernsten/AFP.

In eastern Norway, particularly along the border with Sweden, cross-border shopping has long been common for residents looking for cheaper groceries and a better selection of products. 

Norway’s Covid-19 rules effectively put a stop to that until this summer. The closed border meant a record year for food and beverage sales in Norway. 

“Due to the fact that there was little action and that people did not travel, we noticed that our sales increased greatly during the entire period,” Øyvind Berg, production manager at Norwegian dairy firm Synnøve Finden, explained to public broadcaster NRK.

Now producers and supermarkets fear the impact of cross-border shopping being up and running again. 

“Our challenge is that we see that more than half of the food and beverage producers, i.e. the industrial companies, fear that they will lose market share because cross-border trade will return in full,” Petter Brubakk, director of food and beverage at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), informed NRK. 

The majority of those who go shopping across borders in Norway will do so in Sweden. However, in the north, some will also venture into Finland or Russia.

Further south people will also travel to Germany or Denmark. 

Why do people go to other countries for shopping? 

Overall the main appeal of cross-border shopping is that its much better for consumers than shopping domestically. 

Norway’s EEA agreement with the EU means that most foods, drinks, tobacco products, alcohol and other agricultural products are more expensive than they are within the EU as custom duties are required to import them into Norwegian supermarkets. 

Not just that, but there is a much wider selection of products than in Norway due to laws that protect Norwegian products. For example, cheeses such as Cheddar are more readily available, cheaper and generally of better quality in other countries than those found in Norway. 

READ MORE: What is ‘harryhandel’, and why do Norwegians love it so much?

Is border shopping a bad thing for Norway?

Norwegian businesses argue that crossing the border to shop affects the whole value chain, negatively impacting everyone from Norwegian farms and producers to supermarket employees, not just companies profit margins. 

“My advice is to encourage Norwegians to buy Norwegian food, and help secure Norwegian jobs throughout the value chain,” food and agriculture minister Sandra Borch told NRK. 

In addition, shopping domestically means more tax revenue for the Norwegian system to use to fund its generous welfare state. 

While shopping domestically protects domestic jobs, shopping abroad protects jobs there, which rely on people hopping the border to get their groceries. 

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions left a black hole in some of these economies reliant on shoppers from the Norwegian side of the border. For example, in Strömstad, a Swedish town close to the border where many travel to shop, unemployment rose by around 75 percent after Norway closed its borders with Sweden.