Conquering Britain: With salesmanship this time, not Viking sails

The time is right for Danish companies to make it big in the UK, but to reach the payoffs they must navigate the pitfalls

The UK, once Denmark’s biggest trading partner, has in recent years rested in the number three spot, behind only Germany and Sweden. Trends in the British consumer market and the Danish startup scene are raising the profile of the UK as a place for Danes to do business.

Denmark exports significantly more to the UK than the other way round. According to Mariano Davies, the president and CEO of the British Chamber of Commerce in Denmark, this is no accident. “Denmark is considered a producer of quality, good design and food,” he told the Copenhagen Post.


Danish consumer goods have received a lot of British attention of late due to the international success of Danish TV dramas such as ‘Borgen’ and ‘Forbryldsen’ (‘The Killing’). Jon Sadler, the marketing head of Arrow Films, the distribution company behind many Nordic series in the UK market, told Børsen business newspaper that this positively influences Danish export.

“With 20 hours of TV, there’s time to look at the lampshades and which sweater they have on,” he explained.

A number of high-profile Danish companies have successfully made the hop across the North Sea to conquer the British market. Among them are the fast-food portal Just-Eat and the sushi chain Sticks’n’Sushi. There is also a trend for Danish startups to take their operations to London, where venture capital is more readily available than in Denmark.

Growth areas

But Davies emphasises that the consumer market isn’t the only sphere in which the UK can be interesting to Danish companies. He highlights the construction, energy and agricultural sectors, among others, as growth areas.

‘Very interesting’?

But Davies warns that the journey to the British market isn’t always plain sailing.

“Danes think that because they speak reasonably good English they can easily do business in the UK.  They do not realise that language is more than words.  They seldom understand the culture behind the language – the subtleties of language,” he said.

“For example, when a British person says ‘very interesting’, it means the opposite of what they are saying.”

There are other differences between the British and Danish ways of doing business that Davies indicates should be taken into account. “British business dress code is very different to Danish dress code,” he explained.

“Language and culture misunderstandings can arise due to innuendo, understatement, double negatives and much more – the language within the language.”


But for those who can penetrate the market, the opportunities are plenty. With a population of over 63 million, the UK offers one of the largest markets in Europe and presently accounts for 15 percent of the EU economy.

In addition, Davies explains that companies are incentivised to do business in various regions of the UK. “There are many regional schemes, grants and subsidies to help companies establish in the right region,” he said.

If you carry out specialised production or research and development, there are very good tax incentives.”


​ The Center for Economics and Business Research predicts that by 2028 the UK will have overtaken Germany to become Europe’s leading economy

In the 1970s, the UK was the biggest export market for Denmark, recieving about 20 percent of all it exports.

Today exports to the UK constitutes about 9 percent of Denmark’s total

In 2012, goods exported to the UK fell into the following categories: energy (30 percent), machinery (24), food (20), finished goods (9), components for manufacturing (9) and pharmaceuticals and chemicals (8)

Due to the common law tradition, statuory law plays a lesser role in the UK than in Denmark, and the content of individual contracts is of more significance in trade disputes

Both personal taxation and corporation taxation are lower in the UK than in Denmark

The VAT rate is also lower: generally 20 percent, but reduced to 0 percent for items deemed to be necessities, such as food