Curious caviar campaign

Kalles Kaviar is a salty and fishy pink spread made from cod roe and sold in bright blue tubes.
Kalles Kaviar is a salty and fishy pink spread made from cod roe and sold in bright blue tubes.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Kalles Kaviar takes a jab at its 'very unique Swedish taste' that has never found much favour abroad in gently mocking ads

NEW YORK • Kalles Kaviar is Sweden's answer to Marmite.

Made from cod roe, it is squeezed out of what looks like a bright blue toothpaste tube and should not be confused with fine Russian caviar. Swedes love it, but for the rest of us, it can be hard to swallow, unless a salty and fishy pinkish goo appeals to you.

And that is the wry point of a long-running advertising campaign from Orkla, the Norwegian food company that owns the Kalles brand.

A commercial set in Los Angeles, which aired in Sweden during the World Cup last year, was typical. A kindly looking Swede in an apron stands behind a kiosk on the beach. He serves beachgoers bread topped with Kalles, or tries to.

"Excuse me, would you like some Kalles Kaviar?" he asks passers-by.

"You sort of have to be born with it or grow up with it to appreciate the taste. To eat a sandwich with Kalles Kaviar and an egg on it is something you long for if you haven't been home for a long time."

MS ANN SPENNARE, who handles the Kalles account for Swedish ad firm Forsman & Bodenfors.

The Californians rebuff him, again and again.

One man emphatically shakes his head with a look of disgust. A woman waves him away.

An old surfer in a wetsuit was blunt. "You don't want to serve that to people, dude." At the end of the commercial, the hapless salesman sits next to a lifeguard stand as the sun recedes. He eats his pink goo alone on the beach, looking satisfied and at peace.

A tagline that closes the commercial says: "A very unique Swedish taste."

Ms Cecilia Sajland, marketing manager for Kalles, said: "We wanted to show other nationalities' incomprehension when it comes to very Swedish tastes like Kalles."

She added: "We wanted Swedes to feel unique and proud of the brand and the taste."

The recipe for Kalles was sold by a peddler to Abba Seafood, a defunct Swedish company, in the early 1950s, for 1,000 Swedish kronor, or less than US$200 at the time. It was originally sold in plain tubes, according to an account on Orkla's website. But the tubes were soon made over to feature Swedish colours - blue and yellow - and a picture of the son of the chief executive of Abba Seafood. The son, now grown up, receives a free lifetime supply.

The formula seemed to hit a sweet spot in a caviar-loving nation, and one million tubes were sold in the first year. Orkla acquired Abba in 1995. Today, the company sells about 3,300 tonnes of Kalles a year.

Some people eat it on bread, some with cheese, but about 60 per cent eat it with eggs, typically slices of boiled egg, according to Orkla's research.

"I suppose the US equivalent would be peanut butter," said

Mr Jonas Aurell who, along with his wife Bronte, owns ScandiKitchen, a London cafe and marketplace that sells Scandinavian food, including Kalles.

"Scandinavian food traditionally has a lot of pickling, curing, salting," he added. "This is salted cream cod roe, it just ticks all the boxes for us."

Mr Aurell said he grew up eating it and now it is second nature. "I eat it - I wouldn't say every morning - but if I have eggs, I have to have that."

Kalles' omnipresence does not travel across the border to Norway, where Norwegians prefer other brands of caviar in a tube, particularly Mills Kaviar, which

Mr Aurell said has a stronger taste.

The Kalles commercials began in 2012 and were made by the Swedish ad firm Forsman & Bodenfors. If nothing else, they are a whimsical cultural excursion into manners. While the Californians do not hold back their feelings, a taste test in Switzerland yields more hand and eyebrow gestures than verbal responses.

The most expansive response comes from a serious-looking man in a tie.

"It tastes ..." he says. "It tastes..." "Fantastic?" a Swede asks.

"No," the Swiss man replies, with a resolute firmness.

Farther east, in Budapest, the reaction is icier. A woman takes a bite, exchanges freighted glances with a friend. Asked if she likes it, she smiles and says "yes", with a look that clearly says no.

While Costa Ricans laugh and gesticulate, a woman in Tokyo bows, smiles and retreats while appearing to be gagging on a mouthful of Kalles.

"You sort of have to be born with it or grow up with it to appreciate the taste," said Ms Ann Spennare, who handles the Kalles account for Forsman & Bodenfors. "To eat a sandwich with Kalles Kaviar and an egg on it is something you long for if you haven't been home for a long time."

The latest, more upbeat commercial, filmed in New York, is a twist on the series, with the Swedish server happening upon other Swedes visiting New York who are delighted to find a taste of home. Locals should know that they can find Kalles at Zabar's.

But be warned. For the uninitiated, the 190g tube can be intimidating. Native New Yorkers might want to stick to the lox.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Curious caviar campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe