The rise of the Swedish food sector after WW II- What, why, how and who?

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Very little radical or really new innovation within the food sector in Sweden is visible today, although the stores are jammed with food in a variety of packages, designs and sizes and under different brands. Most products appear to be based on technologies introduced years ago, and the diversification consists mainly of line extensions, i.e. incremental development. It looked different after the Second World War, when a number of really new food products, technologies and concepts were introduced into the heavily protected and regulated Swedish market.

This research aims to eliminate a gap of knowledge about What, Why, How and Who in connection with radical or really new innovations in the post-war Swedish food sector - driving forces, involved parties, collaboration, individual contributions, etc. - and to consider whether this knowledge can be of use today, not only in Sweden but in a more general context.

Two groups of experienced people from the food sector were interviewed. One focused on the major innovations, and the other set out to further explore the information from the first group to be able to explain and interpret the why, how and who.

All members of the first group suggested frozen food as the major innovation, followed by self-service and chilled/fresh products, and the second group confirmed this. Frozen food offered something new and better tasting, and a variety of products; the whole concept was unique and the timing was right. The main driving force was the same as for canned food - longer shelf life and convenience - but frozen food required special distribution all the way from producers to consumers and a considerable amount of information. Both frozen food and self-service required suitable packaging and logistics, which had to be developed by a number of companies, that emerged to deal with the task.

Packaging was hardly mentioned as being of major importance, and yet a number of originally Swedish packaging companies have become quite successful internationally. The interviewees did not see packaging development as a special issue, as packaging was developed along with the food. But much of the development in the food sector is to be found in packaging, and hence this development and the driving forces behind packaging were particularly analysed. Driving forces for the packaging development may come from many sources, e.g. new technologies and products/concepts, new consumer or retail demands, legal aspects and changes in society etc. But a new packaging system might also drive new food product applications, once the system has proven itself.

The good collaboration among companies, individuals, and actors in the supply chain stood out as a very positive factor. The food sector in Sweden in the 1940s-60s contained many of the factors mentioned by Porter in his “diamond”, illustrating “the competitive advantages of nations”. The collaboration took place in the form of a network, with the Frozen Food Institute as the spider in the web, and in a cluster, spontaneously formed in southern Sweden. Many enthusiastic individuals, here called “Edisons”, participated in the network. They could contribute in their concrete functions in an organisation but doing more than just their jobs, or they could be active from the outside. Such a broad participation in a similar innovation has, to our knowledge, not been described before in the literature. People involved themselves, as they really wanted to see this development through, offering obvious advantages to the consumers. With this case as an example, this is where a chance of success starts, with a good enough idea, attracting people from various competences (including people from the outside) and forming a group, in a cluster and/or network and working together. Radical innovations cannot be organised by imposing a cluster as a result of economic development policies or on demand, but require a climate for new thinking and motivation, that is not primarily based on monetary compensation.
In conclusion, we might learn from this study that
• networks as for frozen food could be used to establish other technologies, as were suggested for chilled food in Sweden and found in the UK.
• clusters increase knowledge and collaboration and the one formed around frozen food, a “bottom-up” initiative, worked very well. Other successful examples are to be found throughout the world.
• the “Edison” experience could be an example for developing and introducing other innovations, involving and motivating a wider range of people, also from the outside, including marketing and media and other opinion leaders and from an early stage of development.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Packaging Logistics
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
ISBN (Print)978-91-976278-2-5, 91-976278-2-8
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Mechanical Engineering


  • individuals.
  • network
  • cluster
  • Frozen food
  • self-service


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