Full disclosure: I'm half-Norwegian, so there is no way I'd be able to write anything remotely objective about Kvikk Lunsj. This chocolate-covered treat, with its stubbornly conservative retro branding and its 80-year history, is a Norwegian national treasure. To the uninitiated it may look like a strange KitKat clone, but I—and 5.2 million Norwegians—know better.
I love that chocolate bar and everything it stands for. I associate Kvikk Lunsj (which translates as "quick lunch") with childhood summer holidays in the northern Norwegian town of Bodø, where we would fly in order to escape the grey everyday life in Copenhagen. In Bodø we would succumb to the crystal-clear mountain air, fishing trips in the midnight sun, and hiking in the mountains. And we always did it with Kvikk Lunsj in our backpacks, knowing full well that our grandmother would be waiting at home with warm waffles and endless love for her grandkids. Now how's that for pure unadulterated national romance and sickly-sweet memories?
Unfortunately, they are just memories. Today my grandparents are buried, the wood cabin by the foot of the mountain where they lived is sold, and I don't feel like forking out $250 per night for a hotel room, which is the going rate in that part of the world. Granny is gone—what's there to come for? Well, to buy more Kvikk Lunsj would be the obvious reply, but now you can even buy them tax-free in the Copenhagen airport, so there goes my only valid reason for regular trips back to the world's most expensive country.
So here I am, sitting in my dingy and dark two-bedroom flat in Copenhagen. I bite into the creamy, biscuit-crunching milk chocolate while I reminisce about being I was a young and innocent child, standing on top of the mountain in northern Norway and eating my Kvikk Lunsj. Luckily it tastes exactly like it did 10, 20 or even 30 years ago (I can't vouch for what it what was like before, but according to my dad it tasted just as good in the 1950s).
It's not all bliss. There have been moments which sent shockwaves through the entire nation: During the end of the second world war, all production of Kvikk Lunsj stopped because there was a lack of decent ingredients. That's fair enough, but what's far more tragic was when Freia—the cherished Norwegian producer behind Kvikk Lunsj—made a change to the packaging about a decade ago. Freia swapped the tried and tested tinfoil wrapper with generic air-tight plastic, which was met with protests and threats of boycott. I wish I could tell you the producer caved in under the pressure, but apparently it all had to do with environmental regulations, so even us nostalgic romantics were cruelly beaten by that thing they call progress.
You don't even have to be a diehard romantic like myself to appreciate Kvikk Lunsj. The Guardian recently said that the chocolate bar is superior to its perhaps-better-known rival in terms of crispiness, chocolate quality and look and feel: Kvikk Lunsj contains 80% chocolate while KitKat contains 66%.
So, yes, it tastes amazing, but how did Kvikk Lunsj become such a national success? Why does anybody with just a snowflake of Norwegian blood in their veins swear by this cheap, mass-produced candy that shamelessly cashes in on national pride?
We are talking about a complete symbiosis between snack and country, and since Norwegians by definition love anything that is Norwegian, this chocolate is a no-brainer. It has become symbolic of how Norwegians—these rich, luxurious Scandinavians—dance to the drum of their own beat. Norwegians can't be arsed to join the EU, because they have all they need at home. And why should they eat a foreign chocolate bar when "Norway's Favourite Touring Chocolate" has been around since 1937?
Just have a look at the producer's website, which has this nugget of wisdom: "Kvikk Lunsj is more than just a chocolate. It's part of the Norwegian national identity. What people ate on their hikes before 1937 is anybody's guess, but today it's unthinkable to say "let's go for a hike, everybody's alright" if you have left the Kvikk Lunsj at home."
It's obviously written with the tongue firmly in cheek, but deep down it's sincere. Freia knows how Norwegians think and they know that nobody with a Norwegian passport wouldn't be caught dead up a mountain with no snack ready for the summit. That Kvikk Lunsj became the mountain snack of choice is not without merit. On the inside of the wrapper you will find advice on how to make your way around the mountain—the tips are known as 'mountain code'—and since its launch Kvikk Lunsj has been branded relentlessly as provisions for the hike. "When Kvikk Lunsj was launched in 1937, chocolate as sustenance during a strenuous physical exercise was well-established," writes Freia on its website. "Chocolate was an important provision when the adventurer [Roald] Amundsen reached the south pole in 1911."
The heritage is everywhere you look. On Kvikk Lunsj's website, happy outdoor types share hiking advice, and the comment section is covered with pictures of wholesome, blond Norwegian beauties who have reached into their backpacks for that ultimate taste of achievement. They pose in front of the camera in the hopes of winning a lunchbox or a year's supply of the chocolate-covered national dish. Indoctrination has, in other words, become so powerful that Kvikk Lunsj doesn't seem to need Don Draper to tell its story, because this annoyingly self-satisfied chocolate is its own best creative force.