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IKEA to launch veggie, chicken balls

Known perhaps as much for Swedish meatballs as its inexpensive furniture, IKEA is doubling down on its food offerings.

Starting Thursday, the furniture and home goods store is expanding beyond just meatballs and adding veggie balls in the U.S., excluding its Carson, California, store. Another addition, chicken balls will be available in the U.S. starting April 27.

Ikea veggie balls
Ikea
Ikea veggie balls

Its new veggie balls mark the first of more food items it plans to add that are nutritious and more sustainable.

The new food strategy highlights how important food is to the chain, which operates restaurants, bistros near the checkout, Swedish food markets and co-worker restaurants.

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"It's developed into quite a sizable business for IKEA," said Michael La Cour, managing director of IKEA Food Services, in a phone interview.

Adjusted for currency impact, IKEA Food grew 8.6 percent during the last fiscal year while total sales rose 5.9 percent.

The company is currently investing heavily in its food business and planning a face-lift to give restaurants a "homey" feel in fiscal year 2016. It launched the new veggie balls and chicken balls after seeing an "increased interest in healthier options."

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As part of the new food strategy, IKEA also plans to increase its focus on responsible ingredient production, including animal welfare. It is one of several large companies to bring a sharper microscope to ingredient lists, including fast food giant McDonald's and Nestle USA, and brands such as General Mills' Cheerios.

By the end of the current fiscal year, IKEA also aims to have its restaurants and seafood ASC or MSC certified, except crawfish. It is currently working to certify the crawfish fisheries.