Pizza grand in Norway
After graduation from the University of Wisconsin business school in 1969, I interviewed for a job at Jeno’s Pizza in Duluth, Minn. Later that day, I saw a parcel tanker with a Norwegian flag waving in the wind in the harbor. I decided to return to Norway with the tanker as a worker peeling potatoes.
Back in Norway, pizza was unknown. Sometimes, I regret that I did not go into the pizza business. Just a year later in 1970, an American, Louis Jordan, with his Norwegian wife, Anne, started the Peppe’s Pizza chain in Oslo. There are now 76 restaurants in the country.
Then came the frozen pizza, and a Norwegian love affair soon emerged. Production of the original Grandiosa started in 1980 by Nora Industries (now Stabburet). It was the first frozen pizza produced in Norway and quickly became popular.
Today, Grandiosa is the highest selling frozen pizza in Norway. As its website says, “We are talking about true love.” According to a study by the company back in 2004, almost 20% of the population answered that Grandiosa was one of Norway’s national dishes. Each year more than 25 million pizzas of the brand are sold—out of 47 million total—and more than 70,000 are eaten every day.
Songs have been written about Grandiosa. In 2006, the company released its “Saturday pizza” with meatballs and steak, along with the song “Respekt for Grandiosa,” which tells of total addiction and real love. It reached the top of the hit list and was downloaded as a ringtone for mobile phones more than 700,000 times. The “Full Pakke” with smoked ham, meatball, pepperoni, and cream sauce, debuted in 2007 with a commercial featuring a dance that swept the country. Customers submitted their own dances, which were shared online.
Grandiosa has introduced a thinner, smaller, and juicier crust with two offerings: Norwegian mozzarella with green pesto and small sweet tomatoes, and Prima Pepperoni, with two types of pepperoni and grated Edam cheese. Throughout its history, they have polled customers on favorite choices, at one point bowing to pressure and producing an “Utan paprika” (“without peppers”) pizza in 2009.
The current varieties are far-reaching: “Original,” with tomato sauce, meat, bell peppers, and Jarlsberg; “4x Ost” (four-cheese), featuring Jarlsberg, mozzarella, Norvegia, and Edam; “Biff” (steak); “Ham and Pepperoni;” “Kjøttdeig og løk” (hamburger and onion); “Mandagspizza,” a “Monday pizza” with veggies with three cheeses; “Meat Supreme;” “Nybakt Pepperoni” and “Nybakt Skinke” (fresh-baked Pepperoni and fresh-baked ham); “Plenty,” with hamburger, mushrooms, red onion, and tomato; and “Taco Fiesta,” which claims to combine “two of Norwegians’ favorites: pizza and taco!” A gluten-free pizza is also available. They also sell a calzone with cheese, ham, tomato sauce, garlic, and chili.
Grandiosa’s two factories are in Stranda municipality in the Sunnmøre region. The central village of Stranda was established in 1838 and has today about 2,600 inhabitants. The municipality includes the famous Geiranger Fjord, which was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2005. The scenic area is one of the most visited in the Nordic countries and boasts the most extreme and dramatic fjord landscape in the world.
For its size, Stranda has a great variety of trade and industry. About 160 farmers produce milk and meat products. Many local factories have long traditions for making meat products. Furniture and textile production is also important to the region, as are, of course, Norway’s biggest pizza-producing factories.
There is some lore and humor to the company’s history. One story has it that a salesman told his boss, the CEO of Nora Industries, Leif Frode Onarheim, that another Norwegian company was going to import frozen pizza crust from Canada. Onarheim called the Canadians and asked if the deal had been signed. As it had not, he told the company to hold off signing. He flew over and won the contract. When he returned to Norway, he supposedly called the manager at the factory in Stranda, Ivar Moss, and asked if he could produce pizza. Moss immediately answered yes. After Moss got off the phone, he asked what pizza was.
Before entering the Norwegian Business School (NHH), Onarheim studied one year at the Valdosta State College on a scholarship from Georgia Rotary Student Program. So, he, at least, was familiar with pizza.
As the first frozen pizza in the Norwegian market, Grandiosa has long-time and loyal customers. The recipe is a well-kept secret, and the company insists they only use meat from Norwegian farms. About 5,600 cows work full-time to make milk for the cheese. In the pizza town of Stranda, the company has 200 employees.
As every package says, “We are talking real Stranda love!”
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.