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The Future Of IKEA Could Be… Restaurants

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Usually, you think of IKEA as the place to go to pick out some furniture, grab some new kitchen gadgets, and maybe fight with your partner about their questionable taste in sofas. You might grab a plate of meatballs or a tasty-looking Swedish dessert at the cafe while you’re there, but it’s not the central focus… or is it?

IKEA’s been growing in the U.S. for years, Fast Company reports, but one of the fastest-growing drivers of all that is something that nobody inside or outside of the company quite expected at first: food.

The company’s inexpensive cafe, full of Swedish meatballs, lingonberry sauce, and other easy staples, started as a way to increase sales in the rest of the (massive) store.

“We’ve always called the meatballs ‘the best sofa-seller,’” IKEA’s head of food operations in the U.S. 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.”

Indeed, getting your energy up for a hike through the wilds of flat-packed living rooms, closets, and offices can be key to suriving the trek. But the food is gaining its own cachet beyond just being the chocolate cake you treat yourself to for driving out to the IKEA.

Food — both in the cafe and also in the Swedish Food Market — is now turning out to be such a good revenue generator for the company that it’s reportedly considering trying stand-alone IKEA cafes.

“This might sound odd, but [the success] is almost something we didn’t notice,” IKEA Food’s managing director tells Fast Company. Against the company’s total $36.5 billion in revenue, nobody quite noticed the $1.5 billion the food division made — but that’s still no small amount of money.

So IKEA started putting more time, money, and energy into food. The cafe has started offering more sustainable, lighter, and vegetarian-friendly fare, in response to customer feedback, as well as having streamlined the back end to increase savings and reduce food waste — all while keeping it cheap.

Put it all together, and IKEA is serving 650 million diners per year, worldwide. That’s quite a lot of meatballs.

Even more surprisingly: Of all the folks who drop in for a bite at IKEA, it seems nearly a third are there just for the food, not as a pit stop along the way to new furniture.

A handful of pop-up, temporary IKEA restaurants in London, Paris, and Oslo have performed well, the company says… so why not consider more permanent locations?

“I firmly believe there is potential,” the food director told Fast Company. “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’s Big Bet On Meatballs [Fast Company]

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