Ahead of his speaking role at Future Food-Tech London, we spoke to Jesper Juul Andersen, Category Area Manager for Food at IKEA.

Jesper leads the purchasing and supply chain organisation for IKEA Food, located in Malmö Sweden. He shared with us IKEA Food Services’ focus this year, their vision for plant-based alternatives, the challenges faced with the launch of their plant-based meatballs and the partnerships and collaborations they are looking for to create a resilient supply chain to scale and distribute.

What’s been your focus this year at IKEA Food Services?

During the past few years the food business at IKEA has gone through a transformation from being a service to the many people that come to IKEA to buy furniture to become an integrated part of the business. With 433 IKEA stores around the world and more than 680 million people who enjoy the IKEA Food offer every year we know that we have both a great opportunity as well as a responsibility to enable those people to choose food that is healthy, sustainable and responsibly sourced at affordable prices, and that is our motivation and what drives our business.  True to the IKEA vision to create a better everyday life for the many people, we focus on making delicious food that is responsibly sourced and produced affordably for the many IKEA Food visitors.

Can you tell us more about the story behind your vision as to how plant-based alternatives should be affordable, tasty and widely available?

At IKEA we want to inspire healthier and more sustainable eating and lifestyles that have a positive impact on both people and the planet. We know that in order to be successful, we need to look into alternative proteins to meat and that is what we are doing. Our ambition is that in 2022 one out of five sold food items at IKEA will be plant based.

We launched the veggie balls in 2015 and last year we successfully launched the veggie hot dog. With our latest product, which is still under development, we will be offering the many meatball lovers a new plant-based meatball made from alternative proteins. It will look like meat, taste like meat but is 100% plant based. Our main objective when developing new products is of course that we want to make sure that they are delicious and that we only serve food that we love. It is also very important that healthy and more sustainable food options are affordable for the many and it should not come down to people’s wallet whether they choose the more sustainable option.

What has been your biggest challenge when sourcing products for your plant-based meatballs? Has your strategy had to be altered at all to cater for this new product?

Over the past 2-3 years the demand for alternative proteins for meat analogue products has increased and we already see many great products made from alternative proteins on the market. Customers clearly appreciate being able to choose food made from more sustainable sources instead of meat and that was quite evident when we launched the veggie hot dog last year, which was very well received by our customers. There is an apparent shift within the food industry towards plant-based food, whether it is vegetables or meat analogue products made from alternative proteins, and that of course has an impact on the way we work.

That said, building up volumes to supply our business and secure affordable prices for the many can be a challenge because we are lower in volumes when it comes to veggie products. Traditional meat products still sell more in total. There are vast regional differences across the markets we operate. Meat consumption in Sweden and Germany may go down but in China it goes up for example, all despite global trends and interest in plant or protein-based food. Lower volume per product has an impact on the prices we can negotiate, but luckily, we are working hard, together with our suppliers to reach the affordable prices that we want to secure for our customers.

All product development at IKEA is based on the five Democratic Design Principles, sustainability, low price, quality, form and function. By applying those principles in the way we develop our products and in the way do business, we ensure that all those elements are considered, whether it is in relation to how we source the raw materials and how we produce, transport and sell our products in the store.

How can we create a resilient supply chain to scale and distribute plant-based proteins? What partnerships and collaborations could make this possible?

IKEA has a proud history of being a production-oriented retailer. We work closely with our suppliers and always do our best to tailor our products to the production reality.

There is an immense industry set-up around animal-based protein and business models, production equipment and state subsidies have all created a set-up which is difficult to replicate in scale and reach for our size of the business when it comes to alternatives.

But there is also a movement from animal-based protein producers and eager interest to cater for the rapidly growing demand. So the journey towards plant-based proteins, to a large extent builds on this.

We also like to infuse new expertise and partnerships into our business and we are happy to hear from new types of suppliers, innovators and thought-leaders. One example of how we explore new opportunities and collaborations is through the IKEA Bootcamp, where selected start-ups are invited to co-create solutions that address some of the big challenges around us and that will have a positive impact for people, society and the planet.

We also have successful collaboration partnerships where we include third party experts in the product developments between IKEA and suppliers to benefit from everyone’s expertise. We look to on-board new suppliers who have expertise in plant-based products, but previously niched in meat analogues.

From all of the above, we learn and become inspired in a way that is beneficial for our product development and value chain strategy. We can already see good traction on joint developments with our existing partners for plant-based proteins, and we will continue to develop in this area together. Long-term partnerships with trusted suppliers are key to success in this.

Jesper Juul Andersen, Category Area Manager, IKEA Food will be speaking at Future Food-Tech London on the panel: Constructing Robust Supply Chains to Offer the Plant-Based Products of Tomorrow.

Jesper will be joined by:

Session Chair:
Ben Morris, Technology of Business Editor, BBC NEWS, UK
David Wagstaff, Executive Director – Europe, JUST, UK
Ciaran Hickey, Director of Culinary EMEA, HILTON GROUP, UK

Recommended Reading:

Interview with David Wagstaff, JUST