The two-month boycott of Danish goods is beginning to ease in the Middle East, an Arla spokesperson told just-food, however sales at home are being hit by the controversy.

The Middle Eastern boycott began in response to the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. Since it commenced, Arla has attempted to distance itself from the cartoons – a move that has helped sales in Arab countries but damages sales in Denmark.

Ten days ago, Arla took out advertisements in Middle Eastern newspapers emphasise that Arla’s business in the Middle East has been damaged by the actions of others and calling on consumers to reconsider their attitudes towards the company.

As a result of this, hostility towards Arla has eased and some supermarkets in Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arad Emirates are beginning to stock Arla’s products. Some smaller stores in Saudi Arabia have followed suit, the company said.

“So far, only relatively few customers have chosen to lift the boycott but we’ve had positive signals from others and we’re hopeful that one of the large chains will decide to list our products again,” said Finn Hansen, executive director, Arla Foods. “This could well create a chain reaction.”

This change of heart is a reflection of altering consumer attitudes rather than any behind-the-scenes negotiation, Linda Helle told just-food. “The advertising campaign has started to pay dividends,” she observed. “We believe consumers are beginning to come around in the Middle East.”

Yet this does not signal the beginning of the end of Arla’s woes. Some Danish consumers have criticised Arla for the company’s failure to defend free speech, with the youth membership of the right-wing Dansk Folke Parte calling for a boycott of Arla produce.

“We are still attracting criticism in Denmark,” Helle said. “People are either for us or against us on this. Of course, the controversy is hurting sales but we have not yet seen the full effects.”