At this week’s InnoTown conference in Ålesund, I found an energy bar deep within the conference swag bag. Shortly after demolishing it, I spotted Andreas Friis, the owner of said energy bar, tweeting merrily away on the #innotown hashtag. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to grab a few minutes with him to hear about the fascinating story of his burgeoning brand.
Live Arctic is a massive gamble for Friis. Not only is he launching a product business from scratch in a notoriously difficult industry, he’s also working for little personal gain, setting the business up so that 100% of profits go to charity.
Where did the idea come from?
Live Arctic was an idea born when I lived, worked and travelled in Canada and the United States. I was challenged by some of the best American marketers who couldn’t understand why Norway doesn’t have more cooler brands when there is so much to use. That triggered a thought in the back of my mind and when I moved back to Norway I knew I wanted to start something.
I had a health change in my life where I tried to eat more healthily, more natural foods. I ate a lot of natural energy bars in the US so I decided to base the business around these things and make a really high-quality energy bar.
Tell us about your social business model and motivation for it?
It’s a fourth-sector business model, a hybrid between a business and a charity. 100% of future dividends will go towards good causes. To me it’s important to make a difference with a business, so I donate a meal to a malnourished child for every bar I sell. After one month of test sales, it’s close to 10,000 meals already.
The branding is all in English. Is that a sign of global aspirations?
Absolutely. I think we can have cool Norwegian brands outside of Norway that can really make an impact in countries that know Norway and what we stand for.
What are the challenges in trying to make a Norwegian brand cool and modern, rather than traditional and old-fashioned?
There are a couple of success stories such as Helly Hansen, Moods of Norway, even Jarlsberg, and I think more will come. We have so much we can associate brands to, such as the natural environment, minimalism, glaciers, fjords, sustainable living, the outdoor lifestyle. There’s a lot of cool branding potential.
What are the challenges of starting a product business?
The barriers to entry are a really big deal. When you’re making a food product, you need to create the product, create the demand, and then the distribution channels, so it’s a real challenge. I do have my web shop up and running which has helped.
My biggest challenge being based in Norway is shipping. It’s cheaper to ship from the UK to Norway than it is from Norway to Norway!
My manufacturing is done in Spain as I couldn’t find any production partners here in Norway. The distribution centre for international sales will simply have to be outside of Norway too.
This all sounds expensive. How is Live Arctic funded?
Partially from my own pocket and supportive family. I’ve also had support from Innovation Norway and development funds from other organisations such as Nofima Foods and the Research Council. I was lucky to get a NOK 300,000 Innovation Norway incubator grant when they existed, and a further NOK 200,000 later on.
I’m obviously really happy about this, but developing a product from scratch takes time and a lot of money, so very little of that is to help yourself survive. The big challenge in Norway is how to support yourself while you get your startup going.
How do you find the business environment in Norway, specifically for entrepreneurs?
I moved from Toronto to Telemark to start my business, which is the opposite direction than perhaps you should! Just look at the wages, in Sweden you can get two food industry workers for the price of one in Norway, and in the UK it’s four-to-one. And these are countries with more talent available than Norway.
We need a more aggressive innovation policy to support the initial survival of Norwegian entrepreneurs in the most expensive country in the world.