Ikea’s recipe developer gives us the inside scoop on food changes for the Swedish bistro

Here’s what goes into developing a dish for the world’s biggest furniture retailer.

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Ikea swedish meatballs
Ikea’s Swedish meatballs. Photo, Ikea.

Is an afternoon at Ikea really complete without a plate of Swedish meatballs (or two, we’re not judging) before you head to the check-out with your Billy bookcase? (If you’re anywhere other than Canada, you might just have an Ikea-branded beer with your meal, too).

In 1959, the first Ikea restaurant opened in Almhult, Sweden where the headquarters are now located; today their restaurants serve 650 million customers across the globe every year. That’s a lot of meatballs (just under 3 million a day, to be exact) and, like their furniture, their food is incredibly affordable — everything on their Canadian menu is 10 dollars or under (we’re looking at you, 75 cent hotdogs). Today, certain menu items have become just as much of an icon as their furniture best-sellers. In 2015, Ikea committed to offering more sustainable food and lowering food waste, starting with the launch of the veggie meatball and serving certified seafood (they’re the largest food service provider to do so, globally.)

David Johansson ikea
David Johansson, product developer of Ikea food/restaurant. Photo, Ikea.

Chatelaine spoke to David Johansson, product developer of Ikea food and restaurant, at the Ikea headquarters in Sweden this month on how dishes are developed, why Ikea avoids food trends, and what his favourite dish is (and no, it’s not the meatballs).

How do you develop food at Ikea from start to finish?
“We try not to look at the trends that we see are growing, we try to see what happens after that point. Since we’re such a big company, before we go full-on on something, we need to know that it’s going to have a sustainable future. From our side, we can set the trends since we are global and so big. It’s a lot of research, of course, and then we look for bigger trends and then find the Ikea way within that movement.”

What does your day-to-day look like?
“I don’t sit at a desk too often! I’m in the [Ikea test] kitchen, and in meetings with product development teams about plans for the future ranges, and with the communication team on how to explain the stories of the food. The kitchen that we have works a lot like a prototype workshop. We cook something and say, ‘this is what we want’ and bring it to the supplier and work with them to figure out how to do it on a big scale.”

The FOOD Lab is loaded and ready for demo presentation. #ikeatoday #ikeafoodlab

A post shared by David Johansson (@d.s.johansson) on

What innovative things is Ikea doing with food coming up?
“[Because] we are up in the North, we have things growing in the summer and we need to preserve them to last throughout the winter. [We do] a lot of preservation techniques like fermentation, drying, pickling. Ikea has some innovative things coming up surrounding those things, like [making it possible] for people around the world to pickle with the Swedish traditional flavours.”

How have you seen food consumption change during the time you’ve been here — and where do you think it‘s heading?
“Where we’ve been a little bit late at Ikea is that we have been working with breakfast, lunch and dinner. And now it’s all about grabbing something quickly, and lunch is maybe not a plated dish but it could be a bowl [that you eat] standing up or soup [on-the-go]. Convenient, available food is the big movement, and where we have been stuck a little bit. You walk up to the counter at an Ikea restaurant for example, and you see those [set] dishes. The next thing [we are working on] is individualizing those dishes. How do you choose what you want to eat, and can you have that in a smaller size? More mix-and-match in the range, do it yourself, a little bit more how the Ikea furniture works. You buy some components and build them together on your plate, or on-the-go.”

What is your favourite dish at Ikea?  
“That is a tough one. Right now I really like the Gravlax dish, which is marinated salmon with arugula, honey mustard and potatoes and green beans.”

Gravadlax dish, $6, Ikea.
Ikea’s Gravadlax dish. Photo, Ikea.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

More:
10 Ikea secrets that will surprise you
30 of the best DIY Ikea hacks ever
Enjoy your grill while you can — the price of meat could jump sharply