It Came From Norway
Both niche and well-known brands spring from Norwegian sensibilities and know how
John Erik Stacy
Products from Norway often communicate a rustic, robust, practical, honest and perhaps even severe essence that is so typical of people that have made them. Although Norway is a relatively small economy (GDP of about $250 billion compared to US GDP of about $13 trillion) some of its products have acquired pivotal status in the world – or just plain become popular outside of Norwegian borders.
StatoilHydro is the big brother of Norwegian companies with operations in more than 30 countries and revenues of near $100 billion for 2007. In addition to extracting crude oil and gas from the North Sea, StatoilHydro operates 2,000 Statoil-branded petrol stations in Scandinavia as well as stations in Poland, Russia and the Baltic countries. Many would say that even their international oil business is very Norwegian. As the name suggests, the state has a controlling interest in StatoilHydro shares, and income from this massive enterprise thereby can be said to be the property of the populous. So, even in the intoxicating presence of “oil money”, practical Norwegians have kept their heads and looked to how national resources can most directly benefit the nation as a whole. Acceptance of state control may stick in the craw for most here in the US. But Americans can certainly find common ground with modern Norwegians on products that do what they are supposed to do.
In fact, many Norwegian products are already household names. For example, who has not heard of Helly Hansen? Founded in 1877 and headquartered in Moss (just south of Oslo), Helly Hansen worldwide sales totaled more than $200 million in 2007. Helly Hansen is a very strong brand, commanding “visceral” loyalty from people who work and play in the elements. A slogan used by HH in Norway translates approximately as “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” This slogan is well understood by owners of Helly gear who have experienced that, when the elements turn against them, they literally owe their lives to the clothing they wear. In spite of this very strong reputation, HH has had periods of difficulty selling their high quality garments at a profit. Altor Equity Partners now owns HH and has reorganized the company into two divisions: HH Sport and HH Pro. Visitors to malls around America often see an HH sport outlet with gear for snowboarders and other outdoor recreation. HH Pro, as the name suggests, produces products for “serious” activities such as the SEA-AIR survival suits that significantly increase the safety for thousands of professionals making their living in extreme environments. Profits at Helly Hansen group were about $23 million in 2007, almost tripling those of the previous year.
Fashionable clothing for the elements
Also in the vein of outdoor appreciation, Norwegian understanding is fully evident in products by Bergans of Norway. Garments and camping accessories from Bergans are truly world class. As with HH products, people literally bet their lives on the quality of their clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents and other accessories. Bergans products can be found at quality sports shops. Similarly, Swix products are known to the outdoors winter enthusiasts. Best known for its ski waxes, Swix also offers ski-poles, “body wear” and other garments and accessories for Nordic and Alpine skiing.
“Is that a Norwegian sweater?” is a conversation starter at the ski lodge. Norwegian wool products are highly recognizable and one of the best known brands is Dale of Norway. The name of the company is after the town near Bergen where the original wool mill was built in the late 1800s. Knitting is integral to the Norwegian soul, and wool, knitting patterns and accessories have been a major component of Dale’s business since its inception. Hand knit sweaters and “kofter” are also marketed by Dale, but their product line has expanded to high-tech wear in Dale’s “Weather Proof” line. Dale products can be purchased at many stores throughout the US including some Helly Hansen shops. Dale’s web site (www.dale.no) is replete with downloadable information on their products, including photos of garments that can be knit using their patterns and yarn.
Stylish and comfortable furniture is another point where Norwegian products shine. The Ekornes brand is recognized in the US, and their Stressless recliners have helped many Americans make it through many episodes of “Deadliest Catch”. Ekornes has specialized in comfortable furniture and now offers products catering directly to “home theater” applications. The company was founded in Norway in 1934, and today is the largest furniture manufacturer in Scandinavia. From its factory in western Norway near Ålesund, the company shipped $25.3 million in product to North American retailers in this year’s third quarter, up 15.5% over $21.6 million in the same period of 2006. Their growth has added 37 retailers carrying Ekornes products in 2007.
You might get a bit peckish while kicked back in your Ekornes recliner watching Helly Hansen clad fishermen swing crab-pots on to a heaving deck. The answer to this should be Jarlsberg cheese on a Kavli Thin Crispbread. Jarlsberg is now available in almost any grocery store and at Costco in 1 lb wedges and the “family sized” 22 lb wheel. This excellent cheese is made through the same process as a Swiss Emmentaler and is named after the county of Jarlsberg (now part of Vestfold) where production began in the mid 1800s. Jarlsberg is a product of Tine (pronounced Tee-neh) and is marketed in the US by the Tine owned company Norseland, Inc. Jarlsberg is truly a marketing success story and has penetrated well into the deli counter shoppers brand awareness. Tine’s Norseland also markets dairy products with other European origins, such as Gournay cheeses under the Boursin brand, Woolwich Dairy goat cheeses, Garcia Baquero cheeses from sheep’s milk and Old Amsterdam Gouda. Other Tine products, such as Ski Queen have remained “specialty” items so far, but, as a life-long consumer of “gjetost”, I believe even this product – with the appreciation for it being a sweet milk product rather than a cheese in the normal sense – could be a hit on the American breakfast table. Norwegian breakfasts and snacks are often served on a “knekkebrød” like Kavli Crispbread. Kavli products are distributed in the US by American Marketing Team. To find Kavli Crispbread in the grocery store look for it next to Wasa bread. The Kavli brand is well recognized in Norway and the brand includes products such as “kaviar” cod-roe in what looks like a toothpaste tube. It may be a stretch to think that squeezable fish-eggs will ever gain acceptance in US markets, but who thought we would ever be eating sushi?
Many Norwegian products and brands are unlikely to be known to the average consumer but important to America none the less. These include technology companies producing cutting edge components and solutions as well as advanced services to industry and governments. One important business-to-business company from Norway is FAST (Fast Search And Transfer) which sold to Microsoft earlier this year for $1.2 billion. FAST provides solutions for “monetization” incorporated internet search – that is their systems facilitate financial transactions over the internet. Their solutions are customized and command substantial fees, with annual maintenance fees starting at $60,000. FAST claims over 3,500 installations and customer names such as ING, Pfizer and Bayer.
Other important products produced in Norway fall into the “Life Sciences” category. Among these are Norwegian products used in molecular biology, such as “beads” produced at Dynal laboratories in Oslo. Dynal products allow researchers and medical professionals to perform advanced separations of biological materials and are known in laboratories around the world. Although Dynal was acquired by Invitrogen in 2005, the production and research facility in Oslo continues to develop applications for this crucial technology.
Thoroughness and honesty are characteristics associated with Norway, and therefore Norwegian products as well. It is no surprise then, that DNV (Det Norske Veritas) would become a leader in the field of risk evaluation and management. The company was established in 1864 and headquartered in on Oslo Fjord at Høvik. DNV ranks as one of the three major “classification society” along side Lloyd’s Register and the American Bureau of Shipping.
In harmony with its membership in NATO and common interests with the US, Norwegian companies are active in supplying the American military establishment. The Norwegian Defense and Security Industries Association (FSi) over 30 member companies. Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace (KDA) is perhaps the best known of these. KDA products include the Penguin anti-ship missile and the PROTECTOR M151 Remote Weapon Station.
Nature loving Norwegians are also active in the alternative energy department. The star among these, with 2007 profits around $300 million, is Renewable Energy Corporation (REC). The steep increase in the demand for solar panels, particularly from Germany, has bolstered activities at REC and helped to support their acquisition of production facilities around the world, including in Moses Lake Washington and Butte Montana. With the recent renewal of federal tax credits for solar installation, driven by the accelerated urgency for energy independence, it appears that REC expansions are timely.
Honesty and Trust
Norway is in itself a “brand” and people tend to trust products are made well and by honest people. Many great products from Norway remain largely unknown to the American public but are now making inroads. Keep your eyes open for innovative, dependable, stylish and tasteful products from the Norway!
This article was also published in the October 17, 2008 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.