"It’s difficult to do business with someone on an empty stomach."
These words, spoken many years ago by IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad, remain true today. It’s nearly impossible to shop on an empty stomach, don’t you think? That’s just one of the reasons why, in 1956, Ingvar decided to open up a restaurant in the very first IKEA store, in Älmhult, Sweden.
Since then, the IKEA Food scene has grown a lot. Today there’s also the IKEA Bistro (home of the beloved hot dog and soft serve ice cream), and the increasing list of low priced, high quality food items being sold, Swedish-style (like the crunchy “knäckebröd” and tangy “lingonsylt”).
Managing Director of IKEA Food Services, Michael la Cour, took us on a Swedish journey that starts with the first IKEA store.
Just out of curiosity, why did IKEA start selling food in the first place?
“Families would come to shop and spend an entire day in this little village in the woods, so we knew that people would be hungry. We wanted them to feel taken care of and welcome. That was unique back then.”
Are the products and the food connected, other than being sold in the same store?
“Oh, definitely. We start with the idea that quality and design should be affordable to everybody. Whenever we design something we start with the five elements of what we call Democratic Design: low price, form, function, quality and sustainability. We apply the same principles in our approach to food.”
When did the famous IKEA meatball enter the scene?
“That was also in the 80s. Who knew that it would become one of our customers’ most favourite menu item! We sell more meatballs than any other IKEA product in the range.”
What was the biggest change happening around food?
“Well, we’d have to go back to 2013, the year that we—and the entire food industry—received a serious wake-up call: We realized that our supply chain was not as transparent as we wanted. Food is something that our customers should be able to trust, whether they’re eating at home or in our restaurants.
We decided to change how we do business, and increase the precautionary measures in regards to our supply chain. For a long time we have been an influential company and this was our opportunity to have a positive influence on our suppliers.”
What’s been going on this year?
“A lot of things that people don’t see on the store floor or in the cafeteria. We have spent the last year moving the food business further into the focus areas of health and sustainability. We have a Health Advisory Board up and running, supporting us in complex decisions regarding news in the field of nutrition.
We work closely with our key suppliers in raising the bar even further around animal welfare and our internal requirements around ingredients for product development – based on our view of having a positive impact on people and the planet.“
Any new IKEA Food items you’d like to mention?
"Yes! Our pulled salmon sandwich served with BBQ sauce, red cabbage and pickled gherkins is really great. Not only is it delicious, it uses all of the prime meat parts of the salmon, not just the fillet, which is a responsible way to treat this great fish. And since September 2015, all of our fish is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certified, which means it comes from sustainable and responsible sources. We are now the world’s biggest purveyor of sustainable seafood.”
Anything new for us calorie-counters?
“There’s our Nordic fruit water, made from natural ingredients. Overall, we’ve cut the sugar in our drink towers by 50 percent. One day we may cut the sugar down to zero percent. That remains a good challenge to pursue!”
But you still serve meatballs, right?
“Yes, we still serve meat options for people who are “flexitarians” (semi-vegetarians) or simply enjoy meat options, but we are offering more choices. Our new veggie balls are made with chickpeas, green peas, kale, corn, peppers and pea protein. These are made with vegan ingredients and have about 100 fewer calories and half the fat compared to our traditional meatballs.”
You must have a favourite IKEA food item. What is it?
“It’s the veggie balls. That’s the dish I choose each time and also the one I’m most proud of. It’s not just a mushed-up ball. You can see whole vegetables in there. And the fact that it’s healthier, kids like them, and they taste fantastic—it’s just great.”