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Ikea Bistro, Plant Hotdog - vegan. Order via touchscreen, pay by card *** Ikea Bistro, Plant Hotdog vegan o
The vegan hot dog is already well received, now many other products are to follow © IMAGO/Manfred Segerer

IKEA hot dogs have cult status among many customers. But the furniture giant is also adapting to its customers. The range will therefore change.

Less meat, more vegetables: Ikea Germany is adding more and more plant-based dishes to its range. In an interview with Annette Bruhns, food manager Tanja Schramm explains how customers are responding to the change and how AI is combating waste.

Ms Schramm, Ikea is not only active in furniture, but also in food. You are responsible for this in Germany. How many people eat at your company?

We can only estimate that. If we assume that 1.8 people eat per ticket in our restaurants and Swedish bistros – as an average – then we arrive at up to 50 million people per year. Around half of all customers in our furniture stores also eat with us. Some come just to eat, especially for breakfast.

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This interview is IPPEN.MEDIA in the course of a cooperation with the ESG.Table Professional Briefing before – first published it ESG.Table on February 16, 2024.

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What is the share of food in Ikea Germany’s sales?

In Germany 4.5 percent – ​​267 million euros in the last financial year.

Most recently, at “Veganuary,” you offered a particularly large number of vegan dishes. How was that received?

This year we have taken part for the fourth time. It fits perfectly with our concept: for six years we have been offering more and more plant-based dishes. In January it is four out of six dishes; over the year we are at 40 percent of main courses. Our goal by 2025 is 50 percent. Of course we will continue to offer the classics, such as the duck leg in December. It is not about limiting our food offering. Rather, we want to permanently supplement it with other healthier and more environmentally friendly options.

Can you see the much-vaunted change in diet among your customers?

I actually see a turning point in which our customers in Germany are pioneers. As a global company, we can see this in our sales figures: in Germany, one in four customers already chooses a plant-based option – and the trend is rising. This is also reflected in the results of this year’s Veganuary: in January, we were able to convince almost twice as many customers to buy a vegan schnitzel dish instead of our chicken schnitzel. Overall, four out of ten opted for a vegetarian or vegan dish in January, a significant increase compared to previous months.

Did die-hard Köttbullar fans complain when you introduced Plantbullar as an alternative to Swedish meatballs?

On the contrary. There was only a request from fans of the veggie hot dog that this vegetarian hot dog should remain as it is, namely based on vegetables and corn kernels. It tastes so good. That’s why we then introduced a plant hot dog for everyone who wants a taste that is closer to the original. In our Swedish bistros, 25 percent of customers already choose a plant-based hot dog or vegetable hot dog.

They even want to offer 80 percent of their stores only plant-based foods by 2025.

Yes, in the packaged food range, in addition to our plant-based food range, there will then be almost only our iconic non-plant-based products: meatballs and salmon.

Is this Ikea’s commitment to the Green Deal?

We have a very strong sustainability strategy and want to halve our carbon footprint by 2030. We are a global company and know that our behavior really has an impact. That’s why we are pursuing a stringent CO₂ reduction path in which food plays a fundamental role. This includes replacing meat – especially in the products that people know and like.

Since October 2023, Lidl has been offering plant-based foods at the same or lower price as comparable animal alternatives. What about Ikea?

We’ve been doing it this way for a while. The Ingka Group made the decision early on that since October 2022, our plant-based foods will always be offered at the same or even lower price than the comparable alternative based on animal protein. And Ikea Germany goes even further: Since October 2022, the plant-based food range of vegetable balls, protein balls, the veggie hot dog and the plant-based soft ice cream has always been the more affordable choice, by ten to 50 percent.

We read a lot more about Lidl’s vegan offensive than about yours.

This is perhaps only known in specialist committees, because we are exotic in the food sector with our system catering in a furniture store. At the same time, many people are looking at us, including in the retail trade. Because we are one of the largest system catering companies in Germany. It takes a certain amount of courage to change your range like this. So no longer offer five meat dishes and a vegetarian one as a fig leaf.

Speaking of packaging: you’ve recently started offering reusable tableware. Do people come to the restaurants that often?

We offer disposable dishes, cups and bowls for a one euro deposit, especially in the Swedish bistro, so that our customers can take the drink or hot dog home with them. This is done via the RECUP/REBOWL reusable system. Customers can then return the containers to all partner companies throughout Germany, as well as to us, and get their deposit back. They can also pack leftover food in the bowls in our Swedish restaurants and take it home with them. These measures reduce disposable tableware waste – and at the same time food waste.

How much food waste is produced at Ikea? In the catering sector, it is generally assumed that 17 percent of food ends up in the garbage.

We addressed this issue nationally for the first time in 2017 with the NGO “United Against Waste” with the aim of halving this waste. At the beginning, we put out transparent garbage bins for organic waste and recorded the amount of waste so that employees could see what they were actually throwing away. Later, the waste measurement was taken over and recorded by an AI called “Waste Watcher”. This is a learning digital scale with a camera. At the beginning, the employee has to help it and type in what he has thrown in so that it can record it. Over time, the AI ​​recognizes this itself from the stored images.

And that’s how you managed to halve your waste?

In the pre-consumer sector, yes! And that was despite the fact that the initial value of our measurements had already visibly dropped before we recorded it. Why? Because the transparent bins immediately led to greater awareness among employees. This awareness is the real game changer in this matter.

Are you now tackling what remains on our plates, i.e. post-consumer waste?

Yes, that is the next step. For example, we have already found out why so many half slices of bread ended up in the trash. The result: the toppings on our breakfast plates didn’t fit on four halves! Now we have changed the recipe so that the toppings are enough. Our measurements also give us a better idea of ​​which products we are putting too much of on the plate. If a portion of fries is too big, the last ones don’t taste good anymore and are left lying around. Or when the best-before date expires: we now monitor this too so that we really sell most of them before they expire.

By Annette Bruhns