Friday, 23 September 2022

Local Yokel?

September is a time when I’m intensely aware of the local region I’ve landed up in here in Germany. Maybe it’s because we’re a bit out in the country, surrounded by orchards and Apfelwein presses, where mountains of local apples are delivered every morning, growers paid by the kg for their wares. There’s a Kurbisfest one Sunday in our town, with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes lined up ancient steps and round the well in the town square.

Germany has always been more intent on regional and seasonal produce than the UK. It could be that showing regional pride and loyalty is slightly more palatable for many Germans than nationalistic flag-waving. Or perhaps it’s simply because Germany is a far bigger, federal land, less centred than the UK on its capital.

The main supermarkets here have generally got their act together about regional produce. Given that the roots of these supermarkets were in local co-operatives, maybe it's no surprise. Incidentally, the word Kolonialwaren had always puzzled me - you can still see the word on old shop signs - it was used to describe imported goods such as coffee, tea and sugar as well as spices. 

Of the two biggest supermarkets, I’m more familiar with the No. 2, REWE, founded in 1927 and based in Köln. (No. 1 is Edeka - where the “k” comes from Kolonial - which was founded in 1907 and is now based in Hamburg.) REWE offers a wide regional selection of products, labelled up as so:

These products are mainly fruit and vegetables, eggs, dairy and meat products, but also honey, flour and wine. Local brands of, for example, jam or pickles may also be offered under the regional banner. 

But this summer, I noticed a new development for REWE - a beer named Hessebub, which is roughly translated as “Hessen Lad”. The packaging looks very much as this could be a small local brewer who has been crafting beer for centuries that REWE have picked out of obscurity and given a helping hand.

But the reality is different: this is an Own Label masquerading as a brand. It’s an interesting one, a kind of manufactured authenticity. The beer is brewed in Darmstadt, so the product is as authentic as could be. But the name and label design were brewed up in a 21st century office. 

A genuine local brand, or the equivalent of a flashy advertising executive pulling on hired Lederhosen once a year for the Oktoberfest? 

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