Danish food consumers are conservative, price conscious, continue to eat pork and dairy products although they are aware of the health effects of fatty foods, and prefer their own drip-filtered black coffee with cream and sugar to cappuccino, a new study indicates.

The BIS Shrapnel study, which covers more than 10,000 foodservice outlets in Denmark, says that while it would be natural to assume the country’s close links with the rest of Europe would influence eating habits and food preferences, Danish eating preferences are “traditional and very Danish by nature.”

Denmark has a number of very large food manufacturers and the food industry is by far the largest of all the industry sectors. This is reflected by the number of pølsevogner or hot dog wagons in the streets and shopping centres, run as franchises by the large meat producers.

“Overall, Danes prefer their own cuisine both at home and when eating out,” says the study’s principal author, Sissel Rosengren.

“Traditional Danish cuisine is based on the way the farmers and country people used to cook. It includes much pork meat – the country has 12 million animals, an increase of 100% since 1960 – sausages, offal, brown sauce, some fish – particularly cod and herring – potatoes and mashed potatoes, cheese, fresh bread and pastries.

“This cuisine is clearly reflected in menus in institutional as well as commercial foodservice outlets.”
According to the study, Danish foodservice outlets serve more than 627 million meals a year and the market is worth an estimated US$7bn at retail prices. More than 7,500 commercial outlets – dominated by restaurants – account for 76% of the market, with 2,500 operators in the institutional sector.

A feature of the institutional segment is a booming catering market. While large private and government enterprises have their own employee canteens, most companies cannot justify the expense and contract small caterers to deliver lunch every day.

The study says the propensity to eat out among average Danes is relatively low, and the low end of the restaurant market does not really exist, while the very small number of upper end restaurants struggle to provide value for money.

“When Danes go out for dinner it is usually during the weekend. Some restaurants don’t bother to open for lunch, since there is no tradition of long business lunches in Denmark,” says Sissel Rosengren.

“Dinner on a normal weekday is almost always prepared at home together with the family, and a restaurant meal is usually not a cheaper, easier and spontaneous alternative.”

The fast food market is struggling, says the study, for similar reasons  the relatively few American-style chains are experiencing difficulties, although the market is expected to increase slowly in volume over the next five years.     

MacDonald’s, the dominant chain, established itself in Denmark in 1981 and today has 95 outlets. Subway has 13, and Burger King the same number.

There are a similar number of local fastfood chains. DBS, a privately owned company under contract to Danish Railways, has 91 outlets, while Monarch has 17 outlets located next to major highways and traffic centres. 

Unlike other countries, the café culture that has swept the rest of the world has not taken off in Denmark. There about between 10 and 15 coffee bars and cafés that serve Italian style coffee in Copenhagen. Denmark has no coffee bar/café chains like Starbucks or Dome, and Illy, the Italian coffee supplier, decided to stay out after investigating the market.

The study forecasts moderate growth of 1% in 2003 and 1.5% in 2004 for the commercial sector, and 0.4% and 1.3% respectively for the institutional sector.