Christmas means traditional food

The EU TrueFood project has shown that Christmas food occupies a special position for Norwegians. While traditional food is everyday fare for southern Europeans, we Norwegians connect traditional food with Christmas. Why is that?

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Portrettbilde av Margrethe Hersleth
Margrethe Hersleth

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Phone: +47 901 89 021

In France, Christmas food is associated with exclusivity, but not with particular dishes. A Norwegian will always ask "What do you eat on Christmas Eve?". And he doesn’t mean just this year, he means every single year! And every Norwegian knows that this means a choice between four possibilities: cured lamb ribs, roast pork, lutefisk or turkey. The French don’t eat the same Christmas dinner every year and they have a wide range of dishes to choose from. "Looking at it this way, I would say that Norway has much stronger Christmas food traditions than France," says PhD student Valérie Lengard.

Few choices

She comes from France originally and is at Nofima Mat in Ås researching consumer perceptions and acceptance of innovation in traditional food for her doctorate. "My own family, for example, has no firm traditions about what we eat at Christmas. But we buy a lot of good, exclusive food, such as smoked salmon, snails, goose liver, chestnuts, oysters, duck and turkey. We sit and enjoy this kind of food through Christmas and on New Year’s Eve, not just on Christmas Eve. And we place great emphasis on how it is prepared," explains Lengard.

"Origin and process are important in all countries at Christmas. France has more varied traditions than we have. That may be because they have traditionally had more raw materials available throughout the year than we have. In Norway, our choice of fresh raw materials was very limited for a long time, so our traditional food is naturally more limited," says consumer researcher Margrethe Hersleth.

EU project on traditional food

"Traditional food and Christmas are so closely associated for Norwegians because that is when we are together with parents and older people. No other holiday gathers the generations together in the same way," says Hersleth. She is one of those leading the enormous European research project TrueFood. There are 42 organisations taking part. Hersleth is responsible for consumer research in the project. They have been reviewing attitudes to traditional food in six European countries and looking at how consumers view potential changes to these products. "This information is vital for food producers’ communication and marketing. They need to make the right changes, so that consumers get the food they want," says Margrethe Hersleth.

Norway is a bit different

The results of the consumer studies were presented for the first time during a seminar in Paris in October. 5,000 consumers from Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Poland and Spain took part. While Norwegians connect traditional food with Christmas and other festivals, for southern Europeans and Belgians it is more of an everyday thing. Norwegians are also less concerned about whether the food has been produced locally than are consumers in other countries. Not unexpectedly, fewer Norwegians are great eaters of traditional foods.
"The findings also probably reflect our distribution structure. We don’t have specialist shops everywhere," says Hersleth. "And Norway has no tradition of weekend markets where people can go and buy locally produced food," adds Valérie Lengard. The Poles, on the other hand, are the most concerned with the history and genuineness of their traditional food.

Picture: Margrethe Hersleth (left) and Valérie Lengard

Contact: Margrethe Hersleth

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