Food innovation in Denmark is 'a clear political goal', says Food Nation CEO

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Smørrebrød, an open-faced rye bread sandwich is a typical Danish dish. © GettyImages/Masanyanka
Smørrebrød, an open-faced rye bread sandwich is a typical Danish dish. © GettyImages/Masanyanka
Years ago, Danish food meant salted pork, pickled fish and little else to most people. Now it’s Europe’s gastronomic capital with high-value food exports. We spoke to the CEO of Food Nation about this transformation and how manufacturers are tapping into the trend.

While some countries, such as France, Italy or Japan, have for centuries been associated with a refined cuisine, Danish cuisine has undergone something of a revival in recent years.

This transformation is no coincidence, however. It is the result of sustained political interest, according to Lise Walbom, CEO of Food Nation, a public-private partnership created by the Danish government and private companies that works to promote Danish gastronomy and food products.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ own website, twenty years ago traditional Danish food was seen as “low quality and tasteless yet clinically perfect”. ​ In 2005, the Nordic Council of Ministers therefore created the New Nordic Food manifesto as a way of boosting the production and consumption of traditional food products. 

According to Walbom, “the New Nordic Manifesto managed to upgrade and refine these traditions for a more modern palette.”

“New Nordic gastronomy trends have stimulated consumers’ interest in food in general and has created an incentive for farmers and the industry to refine and create innovative products."

‘A clear political goal'

“Food production is prioritised politically in Denmark,” ​she said. “There is a clear political goal to strengthen, motivate and inspire the entire food cluster to continuously look for new and better gastronomic solutions in every step of the value chain.”

This has meant ambitious research and development projects involving players across the value chain with a focus on resource efficiency, climate, environment and animal welfare – “all of which can be improved​”, she said.

“All participants in the Danish food cluster play a role in this development by constantly working together to improve quality and finding better solutions every step of the way, from farm to fork.”

In 2016, the Danish food cluster exported goods worth 156.4 bn DKK (€21bn) of which 40% were “high-value products​”, said Walbom.

Denmark’s top export markets are Germany, Sweden, the UK, China, Poland, Holland, Italy, Japan and the US.

Each year, for instance, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment organises the World Food Summit at the Danish Parliament with the annual theme of how to develop ‘Better Food for More People’.

Last year it also created Gastro2025, a governmental advisory board with members from Arla Foods, Organic Denmark, Meyers Food​ among others that will work to create better eating habits among Danes, avoid food waste, increase food exports and develop Denmark as an attractive gastronomic tourist destination.

The Danish Food Cluster has seen its membership double in three years and now covers 75% of the Danish food industry​. Based at the Agro Food Park near Aarhus – described by its architect as “agriculture’s answer to Silicon Valley​” – it is open to non-Danish firms and recently saw Nestle move there.

"A good example of this collaborative culture is the partnership between the food company, Løgismose and the Danish retailer Dansk Supermarked in their development of new food products,"​ Walbom said. "Gastronomy has also had a direct influence on the selection of convenience food available at retailers in Denmark. This success was due to a close co-operation between the retailers’ product development teams and well-known chefs."

Sea buckthorn, salty liquorice and craft beer

The trend for New Nordic cuisine has also sparked interest in under-utilised native ingredients in packaged food and drink. Sea buckthorn, for instance, grows wild along the Danish coastline and is being increasingly used in desserts and well as savoury dishes.

Winterspring makes premium ice creams and sorbets with Nordic-inspired flavours such as chocolate and sea buckthorn while the confectioner Wally and Whizz manufactures a range of wine gums with flavours such as buckthorn and salty liquorice.

It’s not limited to small start-ups or independents either. Global beer giant Carlsberg has partnered with researchers from the Nordic Food Lab, an organisation dedicated to exploring ‘food diversity and deliciousness’ to develop specialty craft beers to rival wine​ as the accompanying beverage of choice at gastronomic restaurants.

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