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How can the creative industries capitalise on the success of "New Nordic Food"

Ny nordisk mad
Yadid Levy/
It is no coincidence that the Nordic creative industries are experiencing growth these past years.

Johan Arnø Kryger

The Nordic Region is cool. However, history shows that this kind of momentum disappears easily and therefore an active effort should be made to maintain it. The task cannot be achieved nationally or by individual industries. It will require co-operation - both between individual industries and the Nordic countries.  New Nordic Food has proved that this can be done and should stand as an example of how we ensure growth in the Nordic creative industries.

Shanghai, autumn 2013. This is an experiment. An untraditional meal is served in an untraditional way as part of "Nordic Design and Innovation Week". It's driven by the Danish menswear brand, Soulland, and the Nordic inspired cooks collective, I'm a Kombo. They work together to create a total experience where food and fashion interact in the creation of a common storytelling, Nordic Region 2013. The name is Fusion. And it works. Stimulated by the meal, the food, the waiters' clothes and the designer surroundings, Nordic values such as co-operation, sharing culture and informal celebrations - all fundamental values at Soulland - are shared.

Why is Fusion successful? Because including the meal strengthens the values, which in this case are those that the clothes brand earns its living on selling. When you work with fashion or with products from other creative industries, you work at the same time with storytelling and the communication of values. And that is precisely what makes the customer prepared to pay twice the price for a product, which does not necessarily represent a higher practical, material or functional value. If you create the right story around your brand then customers will queue to get exactly that design, with those aesthetics, in that universe.

Methodology and new forms of co-operation as breeding ground for growth

The Nordic Region is currently in high demand. Of this there is no doubt and it benefits the creative industries. One example from the fashion industry is the iconic sweater from Faroese Guðrun & Guðrun, worn by the main character in The Killing, Sarah Lund, in all three seasons. It has become a synonym of Nordic fashion, in the same way as live ants are for NOMA. But there is a huge untapped potential - not only for the fashion industry but for all the creative industries, which sell identity and lifestyle. The potential is redeemed by following three parallel strategies:

Firstly, the establishment of a systematic co-operation, so the creative industries can support each other in communication and thus strengthen one common starting point, the Nordic. There are not many Chinese who can immediately place Denmark on a world map. At best they'll guess it's the capital of Sweden. On the other hand, the Nordic Region is a recognised brand and in line with increased global competition, branding is becoming more and more important. Barcelona stood out as Europe's new fashion centre up through the nineties, but its spot disappeared as other and more interesting fashion cities made their mark. In the same way the Nordic brand must be maintained. This is done best and most efficiently by working in partnership with other industries. Specifically, common initiatives where fashion, food and music, for example, go together and make common branding initiatives - that would be a fruitful way. A total narrative where each industry contributes from its position of strength and creates common added value - Nordic synergy. In this way the fashion industry supports the Nordic cuisine in a common narrative thus maintaining a successful brand. In other words, Nordic co-operation should not be reduced to intra-industrial initiatives but should be expanded to over-industrial projects. Fusion is an excellent example.

Secondly, compatible industries should learn from the structure behind New Nordic Food. This already happened in the fashion industry, when back in 2008 it found inspiration and created a pan-Nordic co-operation, Nordic Fashion Association. By copying the values which have created fertile ground for success in the Nordic kitchen, the Nordic fashion industries can now achieve things that would not have been possible at national level. Again this is added value created by common capitalisation on individual locally anchored positions of strength. One example is knowledge sharing, which is crucial in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, where small Nordic companies are players.

The third method: Focus on local. Local ingredients, local production and local, Nordic aesthetics. Here the pan-Nordic project, NICE (Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical) is a shining example. One of the many major problems with the modern textile and fashion industry is the very resource intensive raw materials; cotton and polyester, which in line with the soaring global demand are placed under increasing pressure. Modelled on the Nordic kitchen, work is being done on concepts such as local production and processing, in both the actual textiles and later the clothes. Are there, for example, materials in the Nordic Region that can be used to create something new and unique? The answer is yes. Everything from Icelandic fish skin to viscose from sustainable Swedish forestry and waste products from Danish agriculture. If these are combined with high quality Nordic design you have the same starting point for creating a new global success - commercially as well as communicatively. And thinking again in a cross-industrial initiative, the creative industries will be able to reach new heights measured in export, growth and new jobs. Not to put too fine a point on it, New Nordic could easily become the Nordic Region's new raw material.

New Nordic Food is ten years old. It is a textbook example of how sustainability, commercial interests and storytelling with the right organisational focus and targeted communication raised to a supranational level can lead to job creation and green growth. Other industries should learn from and capitalise on New Nordic Food and we all ought to seek out untapped potential in different cross-industry collaborations that only support one common Nordic story ... It worked in Shanghai.

In the autumn of 2014, the Nordic Council of Ministers invited a group of leading players from across the Nordic Region to discuss their visions for the future of Nordic food. This essay formed part of this initiative #Nordicfood2024