Ikea visits are terrific catalysts for two things: discovering your significant other has a dark side no Årstid light fixture will fix, then dealing with this by gorging on Swedish meatballs in the afternoon. For those who’d rather just skip straight to eating the meatballs, you’ll be happy to hear Ikea is seriously contemplating opening stand-alone restaurants. “We’ve always called the meatballs ‘the best sofa-seller,’” Gerd Diewald, the exec who runs the company’s U.S. food division, tells Fast Company. “Because it’s hard to do business with hungry customers.”
Apparently, some crazy data out there shows that nearly a third of the people you see eating at an Ikea are not there to shop at all — they’re braving Ikea solely for the lox and chicken strips. The company has had success already experimenting with pop-ups in London, Paris, and Oslo, and claims it currently feeds about 650 million customers worldwide every year — that’s equal to everybody in America … twice.
The company is also Sweden’s biggest lingonberry exporter all by itself, and was harassed so thoroughly by vegans that it rolled out veggie meatballs in 2015. So how did it not see potential for stand-alone cafés before now? According to Fast Company, the furniture side “is so vast” (as in $36.5 billion in sales last year vast) that nobody was paying food much mind. Michael La Cour, the managing director of Ikea Food, says when he finally compared their $1.8 billion in 2016 food sales to other fast-food companies, he realized the number was “not that small.”
La Cour says another bonus is restaurants require infinitely less space and don’t have to be built by an outlet mall in the suburbs. A slightly alarming thought for the world’s limited lingonberry supplies in particular, but La Cour tells Fast Company his real hope is that in just a few more years people will say, “Ikea is a great place to eat — and, by the way, they also sell some furniture.”