Portrait of a man in glasses, plus coarse flour on a blue plate on top of a tray with a nugget-like food product.

Collaborating with start-ups for a more sustainable food offer

As one of the world’s largest food providers, IKEA has set a goal that 50 per cent of the main meals offered in its restaurants will be plant-based by 2025. Puneet Trehan, as part of a core team in IKEA, is now looking for start-ups that can help IKEA reach the goals and at the same time offer delicious and affordable meals.

In Puneet’s home, most of the food served are vegetarian dishes, but the family occasionally eats fish and chicken. That’s a decision Puneet and his family took to reduce the climate footprint of their meals. Another big effort, for him, lies in keeping food waste to a minimum.

“Scaling down on waste is just as important. We got ourselves an air frier to not waste any frying oil, and we try to buy a smaller amount of food for each meal to reduce leftovers and, in the end, the waste,” Puneet says.

Even as IKEA is a home furnishing company at heart, IKEA is a big restaurant chain in many markets. With that size comes a lot of responsibilities and also a lot of opportunities. Every small change made in the food offer can significantly impact both people and the planet.

A dinner table with plates and people eating a classic meal of Swedish meatballs.

The plant ball was launched in 2020. 

“The philosophy around our food offer at IKEA has evolved over the years. As the food business will continue to grow, we need to make sure that the growth follows the overall ambitions IKEA has set when it comes to sustainability,” says Puneet Trehan, Material innovation area manager at IKEA.

By adding more plant-based options on the menu in IKEA restaurants, IKEA wants to help customers make more healthy and sustainable choices. In 2018, IKEA launched the veggie hot dog. In 2020 the plant ball, which has only 4 per cent of the meatball’s climate footprint, was launched. Last year IKEA also committed to the goal that 50 per cent of main meals offered in the restaurants would be plant-based and 80 per cent to be non-red meat by 2025.

Meatballs and plant balls in a row on a white surface, with green plants in the background.

Portrait of a man in glasses with a blue shirt.

Puneet Trehan, Material innovation area manager at IKEA.

IKEA is now scouting for potential start-ups to join a Food Innovation Accelerator Program to reach the goals. Through this program, IKEA aims to collaborate with start-ups to find sustainable and innovative solutions and accelerate the food business development.

“Innovation can be painful, and start-ups can really challenge our existing ways of working and ways of thinking.”

“To develop a more sustainable food offer, we need to work with both big-scale industry leaders and innovative start-ups. We want to connect with the forefront of innovation, and the agility and speed of a start-up can bring a unique proposition to IKEA. Innovation can be painful, and start-ups can really challenge our existing ways of working and ways of thinking. No pain, no gain”, Puneet says.

The IKEA Food innovation accelerator program wants to look into alternative proteins, but more on the level of an ingredient rather than a finished meal.

“We are looking for start-ups to help us with proteins beyond peas or chickpeas, but we are also looking for innovations around texture and re-use of by-products to avoid food waste. We see great opportunities around circularity.”

Stacks of glass jars containing beans, seeds and lentils; some of the jars have bamboo lids.

A pair of hands holding Brussels sprouts over a grey surface; a few have fallen out of the hands.

As a start-up – what can you expect from collaborating with IKEA in the food innovation accelerator program?

“We can, of course, bring growth volume and market access, but it’s also about learning together along the way.”

What’s the difference between the Food Innovation Accelerator Program and the previous IKEA Bootcamp?

“The bootcamps had a different set up which targeted start-ups, in general, to explore new ideas in many fields and support their incubation. The Food Innovation Accelerator Program is focused on food innovation and will address the full value chain and can build on and connect different ideas and solutions,” says Puneet.

The Food innovation Accelerator program is supported by Impact Hub. As a start-up, you can read more on how to participate in the program here.