Sinterklaas Brand & Product study 2018: Seeing Through the Soot

Image courtesy of: BUROBRAAK Social Design, 2017, voor Nederland wordt Beter.


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The European Race and Imagery Foundation’s (ERIF) annual Sinterklaas Brand & Product study is a sociological market research report, which seeks to analyse longitudinal data concerning the ongoing and evolving usage of the Zwarte Piet character by major supermarket chains and brands across the Netherlands. This year titled: Seeing through the soot (download the full report here), with each edition the ERIF team conducts online and in-store fieldwork to capture the various manifestations of the character. Using a seven-point imagery grading system [1], we are building stringent comparative year on year data-sets that reveal the effects the anti-Zwarte Piet campaign is having on various institutions, and how they choose to present the character. Over a dozen stores are featured in the online part of the study, as well as in-person observations by the members, of their local neighbourhoods, serving to distinguish how various franchises of the same stores located in different parts of the country use the image.

Key results of this year’s report are as follows:

  • This year we have included the stores Marqt, Etos and XENOS to provide a wider data set.
  • Bearing in mind the changes being made to the mainstream Piet image, we have added the grade 5d to communicate imagery that uses a person of colour (real and/or cartoon) with soot marks on their face.
  • 5.8% of the products assessed were grade 7 (images containing real life white people in blackface). This is compared to 12.6% in the previous report.
  • Many of the stores’ products had recorded grade 1, although the stores Bart Smit, Blokker and were notable for having more of the higher grades (i.e. 6 and 7).
  • had the most recorded grade 7s, with the worst category being “DVDs”, although in terms of percentages, Bart Smit had worse representation of grade 7s.
  • 51.7% of products were grade 1 (Sinterklaas imagery containing no reference to Piet whatsoever). In the 2017 report (on 2016 data), grade 1 made up 35.9%.
  • Grade 5b (images of real and cartoon white people as Piet with soot marks on their face, rather than blackface make-up) was assigned to 6.2% of the products, compared to 5.7% previously.

In addition to the grades, the report details new developments, challenges and statements regarding the anti-Zwarte Piet campaign. In this way, the report acts as a method of valorisation of these campaigns by capturing the material consequences of their success as well as providing concrete data that can propel such activism further.

2017 store to store product grade (1-7) assignment comparison.

As the discussion around whether or not Zwarte Piet should continue to be a part of the Sinterklaas festival rages on, the pro-Piet camp has become increasingly organised and violent, going as far as halting three bus loads of anti-Piet activists on their way to the annual intocht on the highway and descending on primary schools in full costume to make a statement. Meanwhile, major cities such as Amsterdam pledged to no longer feature Zwarte Piet in their parades, introducing the new Roetveeg Piet, who has soot marks across his face, rather than the historically offensive blackface make-up. The question remains (and we shall attempt to respond to this) how present this new version of Piet is in the packaging and advertisements of certain Sinterklaas brands and products. Furthermore, activists have emphasised this year the importance of viewing the Piet characters as emblematic of institutional racism, rather than a stand-alone social matter to be solved in a vacuum.

See below for details on the previous reports and get in touch with us at with any comments or questions.

2017 report on the 2016 data collection.

2016 report on the 2015 data collection.

[1] With grade 1 being the least racist and featuring no references of the Piet character whatsoever, and grade 7 being the most racist, applying to depictions of real people in full blackface as Zwarte Piet.




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