What's the fuss about Swedish cuisine?

27 June 2018

Elin Andersson

In the 1980s, Spain had a cultural explosion and the Spanish cuisine skyrocketed. Tapas restaurants started to pop up everywhere in the UK and across Europe. In the same way, “Swedishness” has today become popular in the UK, and classic Swedish food such as meatballs, crispbread, lingonberries, and cinnamon buns have ventured outside of Sweden. So, what is the fuss about the Swedish cuisine? The SCC spoke with four Member companies to get a better understanding of how it has evolved into an extensive trend in the UK.

“For the past years, Swedish culture has become a trend in the UK. Everything from literature and film to design, fashion and food have been popular among the British consumers. Writers and series like Stieg Larsson, Wallander and the Bridge, together with successful brands like IKEA and H&M have paved the way for Swedish products in the UK,” Amanda Hallberg, Project Manager at Business Sweden said.

“Sweden and Swedish products are associated with values such as trustworthiness, health and high quality. These values have become increasingly important to the British consumers, which has helped Swedish companies to grow in the UK,” Hallberg continued. “The growing interest for Swedish products in general, focus from the Swedish government to expand Swedish food and beverage exports, and the success story of some Swedish brands have all been part of creating the popularity of Swedish food in the UK,” Hallberg said.

Annethe Nathan, founder of TotallySwedish, opened her first shop on Crawford Street in central London in 2005. At first, the customers were primarily Nordic people living and working in London, but since then, the interest among Brits has increased rapidly. “Sweden is synonymous to many with good quality and service, Swedish food is known for being quite healthy, and it’s easy to cook and not too spicy,” Nathan said.

Quality is one of the factors that have had a huge impact on the evolution of the Swedish gastronomy. Sustainability, health and the expression “lagom” create an authenticity that people associate with the Scandinavian lifestyle. The Scandinavian cuisine is characterised with seasonal and natural ingredients and creative production. For example, Sweden has produced many large vegan brands, such as Oatly and Oumph!, which have entered the UK market in recent years.

Many Swedish companies in the UK use the power of “Brand Sweden” and stay in the forefront thanks to the spirit of Swedishness that they share with their businesses. “Swedish brands are often noticed because they have a clear and functional design, along with a feel-good theme and the Swedish flag is often used which makes the products stand out,” Nathan said.

“Marketing and brand building is extremely important in the UK, and successful Swedish brands have been able to tell a convincing story, communicating values that are relevant to the British consumers,” Hallberg said. IKEA is a good example of how successful it can be to use the power of Brand Sweden. “Our Swedish nationality is not only important for promoting our brand, it also influences our spirit, our values and our culture. The IKEA Concept is the visible as well as invisible result of more than 70 years of hard work,” Starr McLean, PR Officer at IKEA said. She explained how IKEA uses the Swedishness in its business: “Some parts of the IKEA Concept link more obviously to our national identity than others. The colour of our stores, the blue and yellow flags, the IKEA Restaurant & Café, the Swedish food products and the co-worker uniforms are examples. They clearly signal our Swedish origin and the IKEA Concept, helping us to stand out from the competition.

“But there are other less obvious elements,” she continued. “Our Swedishness impacts the way we do things. The way we speak – being clear and simple, honest and down to earth – is part of the same legacy. This part of our nationality will remain as important in the future as it has been in the past”.

Another company that has managed to establish a strong Scandinavian brand in the UK is ScandiKitchen, a wholesale, retailer and restaurant that opened in 2009. Bronte Aurell, HR and Marketing Manager at ScandiKitchen, pointed out the importance of having a long-term perspective in the branding work. She said: “There was, and is, always a danger that a food trend becomes just that: a trend. But with ScandiKitchen, we have really tried to ensure it has remained in the forefront as to be able to really end up on the British dinner table, not just as a special on a menu board. In order to do this, we have campaigned for 10 years for people to try out herring, lingonberry, our cheeses and crispbread. We’ll get there, but it was always a long-term project.”

So, what is the future of Swedish food in the UK? Still there is a growing interest of Swedish food which derives from external trends such as an overall increased interest in food internationally. This, of course, widens the target group for the Swedish cuisine and Scandinavian trends in general. IKEA works actively with innovation and finding new ways to develop and improve their food range. “Iconic dishes like meatballs and salmon will always be there for the many people to enjoy at an affordable price, but we are always looking at innovative ways to challenge our ranges. Working with SPACE10 [external future-living lab exploring new, sustainable ways of producing and distributing healthy food] is a great example of how we are challenging the future of our food, to always make sure we are thinking forwards to create new, sustainable and healthy options,” McLean said.


Interesting facts
(Business Sweden - Partly state-owned management consultancy firm)

  • In 2012, Business Sweden initiated a collaboration with the online grocery retailer Ocado where Swedish products are offered to the UK consumers through a Swedish shop-in-shop. The collaboration gives Swedish food suppliers access to 70 percent of the British households. Sales from the shop has increased on a yearly basis and contributed to increased visibility of Swedish food products in the UK.
  • Swedish grocery exports to the UK have grown on a yearly basis from £270m in 2011 to £510m in 2016, however the exports in 2017 saw a slight decline to £450m, partly due to the fall of the Sterling Pound.

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