The taste of Norwegian summers
TEXT: ALYSSA NILSEN | PHOTOS © ØYVIND HAUG | HENNIG-OLSEN IS
Hot summer days, sunny days on the beach, 17 May, birthday parties, and roadside cafés in the sun all have one thing in common: the taste of Hennig-Olsen ice cream. The family-run company has been essential in contributing to the celebrations and everyday treats of Norwegians since 1924, and nearly a century later, its products are more in demand than ever before.
The Hennig-Olsen story started in 1919, exactly 100 years ago, with a mystery. Sven Hennig-Olsen left Norway and went to Chicago in search for a better life and to find his missing brother. Unfortunately, he never found his brother – but along the way, he learnt to make ice cream. When his Kristiansand-based girlfriend refused to move to America to join him, he made the decision to return to her instead.
Back in Norway, he opened a kiosk selling fruit, chocolate, tobacco and, of course, ice cream. Produced in tiny quantities using a hand-cranking method, and sold immediately as fresh produce, ice cream was a luxury product only for the few. But production equipment and storage options developed, and so too did the amounts of ice cream produced, making it cheaper and more accessible to the general public. With the exception of the years surrounding World War II, sales have been steadily increasing year by year, and three generations later, Hennig-Olsen has gone from a tiny kiosk-based luxury product to a nationwide treat, known and loved by all.
Changing climate, changing demand
Being a seasonal product, with summer accounting for the majority of the sales, is not easy in a country where practically half the year is under the shadow of winter. But times are changing, and so too is the Norwegian climate. Last year’s super summer saw a yearly sale increase of a whopping 15 per cent. “We almost ran out of ice cream,” says managing director Paal Otto Hennig-Olsen of the huge demand. “Everybody thought the heat was going to last a few weeks, but it just went on and on!”
He explains that the trend they are seeing weather-wise is that seasons are more unstable than before, making production and demand harder to predict. To be able to adapt to the new weather and season patterns, the brand is currently undertaking a significant renovation process, providing the flexibility to speed up or slow down production with short notice, depending on demand.
Alongside hiring highly educated staff in different fields, diversity and integration are integral parts of the company’s identity and belief system. As such, Hennig-Olsen also focuses on uneducated workers, immigrants and refugees. The result is an international staff of 245 employees. Being a new citizen of a country and starting from scratch can be daunting and difficult for anyone. “Many of our employees have come to Norway because their own countries are torn apart by war,” says Hennig-Olsen. “They’ve made their mark on our culture, and I love that.”
New products and healthier options
Hennig-Olsen insists that working with a product that is impacted by weather and the seasons is not stressful in the slightest. “It’s actually part of the charm,” he laughs. And whatever the weather or temperature, they can always count on 17 May, the day Norwegian kids historically have always been allowed to eat as much ice cream as they possibly can. “It’s the first day of summer,” Hennig-Olsen explains. “It’s the day we say goodbye to autumn and winter and put the dark and cold behind us, and the nice seasons begin.”
Spring and summer also mean new products being introduced, along with the old favourites. This year, in line with last year’s most popular new product, as well as with national and international trends, vegan ice cream is prominent in their catalogue. A vegan ice cream cone is among the newcomers to the range, as well as a collaboration with squash and jam manufacturer Lerum for a brand-new popsicle called Zeroh, the first popsicle in the world with ‘zero’ calories. Healthier options with fewer calories and more natural ingredients are in demand, and Hennig-Olsen is more than happy to cater to this need. But, indulgence is also an important option to have, and on the opposite side of the scale, they offer Créme, their most exclusive ice cream with a full and rich flavour and creamy texture. This year boasts two new varieties with so-called ‘large inclusions’, a technological breakthrough. A sorbet melon popsicle for kids is also in the works and will be available soon.
Whatever the summer has in store, Hennig-Olsen is prepared.