Ikea dished out a vegan-friendly version of its famed Swedish meatballs on Wednesday, aiming to lure more shoppers to furniture stores that already sell close to a billion meatballs a year.
The chickpea-based veggie balls are the first step in a broader, health-focused overhaul of the retailer’s in-store restaurant menu, Michael La Cour, managing director of Ikea’s global food business, said in an interview today in the chain’s store in the Anderlecht district of Brussels.
They’ll cost less than Ikea’s original meatballs to encourage shoppers to try them. Ten veggie balls cost 4 euros ($4.34), compared to 4.95 euros for 10 meatballs. The world’s largest furniture retailer has seen growing interest in vegetarian and lower-calorie food, La Cour said.
“Our wish is to make this as appealing and as affordable for as many people as possible,” he said. “We want to make sure that it’s not a luxury product to have a vegetarian option.”
Ikea’s meatballs, the top-selling product in its restaurants, still use the same beef-and-pork recipe it rolled out in 1959. Some 600 million of the 825 million visitors to its 315 stores worldwide each year eat at its restaurants or buy food to take home. At some stores in Asia, more people come to eat than to buy furniture, La Cour said.
Ikea also plans to add reduced-sugar Nordic fruit waters, frozen yogurt and calorie counts to menus in coming months. The veggie balls contain 148 calories per 100 grams, compared with 250 for the meat-filled version.
Ikea tested veggie balls using mozzarella cheese and various spices before deciding to go with a blander vegetable-based recipe that would appeal to a wider audience, including fussy children. The soft turmeric-tinged balls have small chunks of sweetcorn, bell peppers and onions for texture, while kale, black pepper, sage and bay leaves provide flavor and pea puree is used as a binder.
They’ll be served with different menus according to the season or the region, with the Brussels restaurant offering a protein-rich meal of veggie balls with couscous, yogurt and a mango curry chickpea salad.
The veggie balls are available in most of Ikea’s stores as of Wednesday and will be introduced in Japan, China and South Korea in June or July, La Cour said. The Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce remain on the menu, he said.
“People who want the meatball and love us for the meatball should continue having the option to get the meatball,” he said. “I won’t touch that.”