Moving beyond meatballs, IKEA wants to be an incubator for food innovation

Looking for the future of food.
Looking for the future of food.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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The world’s largest furniture retailer, already known for its in-store cafeteria that serves up Swedish meatballs, wants to find the next big innovation in food.

IKEA announced it is starting an innovation incubator program, in which it has invited start-up companies to apply to spend three months in one of the company’s labs in Sweden. The benefits? Companies will get €20,000 ($22,400), three months of free housing, and access to IKEA’s prototype shop, a test lab, and hands-on access to the expertise of scientists working in the lab.

The Swedish maker of at-home-assembly furniture wants to focus the resources of its incubator on eight key areas: Food innovation, disruptive technologies, customer experience, disruptive design, sustainability, manufacturing, the supply chain, and analytics.

The idea of a global company taking on fledgling food startups has been in vogue for some time. Earlier this month, yogurt maker Chobani announced its incubator is accepting applications for its second round of hosting food startups. In April, Pepsi announced it’s creating a “nutrition greenhouse” incubator to generate new ideas for health and wellness brands.

For food, in particular, the company is eager to work with startups looking to make waves in urban farming, using virtual reality to do food tastings, the invention of new ingredients, sustainable sourcing, conservation efforts, and healthier eating. “We do not take equity in your startup,” the company says on its site. “We are looking to collaborate or co-create with you. We may end up being a customer.”

With more than 30 huge stores in 41 countries, IKEA would be a valuable customer for any startup.