The Scandinavia Report: Wellness Trends, Growth and Market Opportunities

With some of the highest rates of gym membership and organic food consumption in Europe, Scandinavia’s wellness market is mature, but tech and innovation are driving further growth in the region’s health and fitness consumption both inside and outside of the studio.

Denmark boasts the highest organic food market share in the world, according to a 2016 market report by The Soil Association, with almost eight percent of the country’s food and drink sales pesticide and GMO-free. And Sweden, which has one of the highest proportions of organic-certified farmland in Europe, saw growth of more than forty percent in 2014.

Beyond organic, sales of free-form and fortified food and beverages are also buoyant; the category was worth $12.4bn in 2015 according to Euromonitor International, with drink sales making up a large chunk of the figure. In Denmark, a country which boasts the world’s first paleo fast-food chain, named after the ancient diet, wellness beverage growth almost reached double digits, while Sweden, home to the Nobe aloe vera drinks brand, has enjoyed year-on-year sales increases of seven percent.

When it comes to exercise, Sweden and Norway are also two of Europe’s most mature markets, with the latter boasting a gym membership penetration rate of almost 20 percent, according to data published by health and fitness nonprofit EuropeActive, in April 2016. “Everybody is pretty dedicated to their gym,” revealed Lululemon community connector Fia Garvner, who is based in Sweden.

The global athleisure company which opened a showroom in Stockholm in 2015, partners with studios across Sweden and in Denmark and Norway, which stock its coveted products and allow the brand to connect with local consumers through events. It sits alongside homegrown brands like the Swedish startup Under The Same Sun, and established brand Craft Sportswear, which pioneered functional base layers in the 1970s.

Under the Same Sun activewear
Image: Under the Same Sun

Leading the workout industry in the region is Health and Fitness Nordic, which has 517,000 members training in over 200 health clubs throughout Sweden, Norway and Finland, across its SATS and Fresh Fitness brands. With the third largest revenue of a fitness chain operator in Europe, after Virgin Active and David Lloyd, its customers represent a large chunk of the region’s gym goers.

In contrast with other European markets, fitness operators have competed enthusiastically to offer value workout offerings. “Everything has been driven by cost,” explains Paul Bowman, the CEO of Wexer Virtual, a platform for virtual group exercise for health clubs, which is currently expanding into digital memberships.

Danish market leader Fitness World offers memberships from the equivalent of £18 per month, while access to a Crossfit gym in Copenhagen can cost one-third of what it would in London.

Many boutique brands are yet to make significant inroads into the region, with SoulCycle a notable absence. Bowman thinks the popularity of Crossfit (Stockholm alone has six CF gyms) has been part of the explanation for this. “Because of it being so huge there, consumers haven’t engaged so much with boutique fitness,” he explains. However, he believes things are beginning to change.

Barry’s Bootcamp opened an outpost in Bergen in 2011, and followed this up with an Oslo branch in 2014, while home-grown boutique studios in Stockholm including spin studio Urban Ride and megaformer pilates gym Becore, have thrived over the last two years, explains Garvner. “When SATS Elixia opened the first purpose-built yoga gym in Oslo it was a really exciting moment,” he tells Welltodo.

Inside health clubs, digital group fitness has played an important role in low-cost offerings since Danish value chain Fresh Fitness was launched by Wexer Virtual founder Rasmus Ingerslev in 2009. “The club was one of the first value offerings in the market, and our technology started off as a way for operators to offer low-cost group fitness,” explains Bowman.

“Now the focus is on offering the best high-quality content experiences,” he adds.

The tech firm, which is now a global player serving over 40 countries, joins a growing roster of innovative Danish ventures including tracker app Endomondo, which was sold to Under Armour for $85M in 2015, and BodyBarista, which helps users record their physical transformations as they work towards fitness goals.

“The overall saturation level within the region for digital fitness is high, and in terms of the quality of tech talent, Scandinavia is the tech place to be after Silicon Valley,” says Bowman.

The statistics on wearable tech are certainly a testament to consumers’ appetites for innovation, with Euromonitor research revealing 100 percent growth in the Norwegian wearable tech market in 2014.

Outt fitness app
Image: Outt

The saying ‘whatever you’re after there’s an app for that’ is particularly true in Norway,” explains Mari Mathews, the COO and co-founder of Oslo-based startup Outtt, an app launched in June 2016 that draws on local knowledge to connect users with outdoor adventures. She also highlights the significant chunk of wellness spending outside gyms and studios, with Norwegians spending over $2000 a year on outdoor sports equipment and topping global tables for their enthusiasm for outdoor purchases

And this passion for skiing and hiking is about more than just calorie burning.It is fitness, but Scandinavians want to experience way more than that. It’s also about adventure and being immersed in nature,” Mathews says.

“We don’t have the Eifel Tower or Big Ben, but do have all this incredible outdoor space, so the potential is huge.”

Across the region, entrepreneurs are tapping into the wellness tourism market, worth $500bn globally, by building on a long history of spa resorts and winter sports with innovative new types of holidays. Mindfulness coach Sille Lundquist’s Darkness Retreat combines meditation with basic survival techniques in Sweden, through her company Being Human, while new outdoor adventure company IGO, founded by British entrepreneur Bobby Melville, launches in 2017 with a Norwegian quadrathlon.

Lululemon is also keen to tap into the passion for outdoors wellness in Stockholm, and is planning a campaign focused on the importance of mindful breathing in the run-up to the holiday season at the end of 2016. “‘The Air Out There’ is going to be about focusing on being in the moment by going outside and enjoying the great quality air we have in Sweden,” explains Garvner.

For Wexer Virtual’s CEO, those in the wellness space elsewhere in the world should be looking to the region for developing trends.“The Nordics are a little more ahead of the curve, than the rest of Europe,” says Bowman, “but UK and US operators don’t necessarily look to them for inspiration.”

As global brands start to see the potential of the market as well as its incredible opportunities for outdoors fitness, this is an oversight which doesn’t look set to last much longer.