IKEA Might Open Standalone Cafes: Swedish Meatballs Are the ‘Best Sofa-Seller’

IKEA, famous for its inexpensive Swedish meatballs and ready-to-assemble furniture, might open standalone cafés, according to the retailer’s head of U.S. food operations.

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“We’ve always called the meatballs ‘the best sofa-seller,'” Gerd Diewald told Fast Company. “Because it’s hard to do business with hungry customers. When you feed them, they stay longer, they can talk about their [potential] purchases and they make a decision without leaving the store. That was the thinking right at the beginning.”

According to Fast Company, one of IKEA’s biggest revenue generators is its in-store markets, which sell jars of herring, lingonberry sauce and, of course, those delicious Swedish meatballs. As a result, the company is considering expanding into standalone cafés in city centers.

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“This might sound odd, but it’s almost something we didn’t notice,” IKEA Food managing director Michael La Cour told the magazine of the unexpected success of the in-store eateries. “But when I started putting the numbers into context of other food companies, suddenly I could see, well, it really is not that small.”

Fast Company reported that IKEA Food had annual sales of approximately $1.5 billion in 2013.

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IKEA recently started putting more time and money into its eateries, which have been redesigned and now offer healthier menu options, including chicken and vegan Swedish meatballs. The restaurants, many of which can accommodate 600-plus diners at once, now include different sections, including an area with comfortable sofas and a children’s play section. The proposed standalone cafés, however, would be smaller in size.

“The mere fact that we don’t need so many square feet to do a café or a restaurant makes it interesting by itself,” La Cour told Fast Company. “I firmly believe there is potential. I hope in a few years our customers will be saying, ‘IKEA is a great place to eat — and, by the way, they also sell some furniture.'”

IKEA, meanwhile, tells Us Weekly, “IKEA Food is continuously thinking of how to meet the growing interest in food among consumers and find ways to meet them where they are. While we have experimented with new ways of enjoying IKEA food — including through pick-up points and pop up restaurant events in London, Paris and Toronto — no decisions on standalone restaurants have been made at this time.”

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