The story of Olav Kavli

Kavli is one of Norway’s biggest manufacturers of spreadable cheese. We have a long and proud history, starting with our founder Olav Kavli, who traveled to 80 countries with cheese in his suitcase. 

This year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Olav Kavli's innovative spread cheese. Watch the video or keep reading to learn the story of Olav Kavli. 


From Fannestranda to the world


Next time you enjoy a slice of bread with Kavli spread cheese, close your eyes. Picture Fannestranda in Molde, nestled against the Romsdal Alps, with fertile fields and a fish-filled fjord – that's where the Kavli adventure began.

Olav Kavli was born in 1872, fourth in a family of six. The Kavli family farm is small, and they have to work hard to survive. Olav learns the virtues of saving and hard work. By age seven, he’s saving his money with a clear goal; to travel abroad and start his own business.

At age 18, he has saved about a month’s salary and launches a true Norwegian industrial adventure. He leaves for Bergen and plans to attend business school at night and work during the day to gain experience before launching his venture.

But obstacles lie ahead. He works multiple jobs, sometimes living in abject poverty. At one point, with dwindling funds and poor health, he nearly gives up. Yet, he perseveres, overcoming each hardship. Finally, in 1893, three years after arriving in Bergen, he registers the company O. Kavli.

Olav has found his niche. Bergen is booming, dairy is industrialised, and luxury goods like cheese and butter are in demand. Rising societal prosperity sets the stage for success.

And success comes, but not without setbacks. Sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back. In 1924, O. Kavli goes bankrupt due to liquidity issues and bad investments. Yet, just a month later, O. Kavli AS is born, and the business continues.

Olav was a pioneer in product development, Norwegian exports, and establishing industry abroad. A true adventurer, he travelled with his suitcase full of cheese, realising early on the importance of marketing and publicity. Each country he left his cheese case in, counted as a new export market, making it easy to claim Kavli exports to dozens of countries.


The cheese race


Around the 1920s, a fierce race rages in the international cheese industry to create a soft, tasty, and above all, long-lasting cheese. It's a demanding challenge, but promises massive success. Olav Kavli thrives on innovation and competition. He loves being first with new products and works tirelessly to win the cheese race.

In 1923, Olav and his team successfully produce a spread cheese that ticks all the boxes: delicious, not too salty, and with a long shelf-life. That September, he hosts an exclusive gathering for the secret launch of Primula. The new cheese is to everyone’s liking. Mass production begins, and in 1924 (the same year he goes bankrupt and rebuilds the company) he registers the 'Primula' trademark.


Thee women on the factory floor making the crescent shaped boxes for the Primula packaging


Launched internationally in 1925 as the world's first shelf-stable spread cheese, Primula quickly captures a large market share at home and abroad, laying the foundation for the Kavli Group's future success.

In 1929 Primula comes in an aluminum tube format, further extending its shelf life.


From pioneer to philanthropist


Olav's son, Knut Kavli, follows in his father's footsteps and naturally finds his place in the business. After education abroad, he joins his father's company, becoming manager in 1924 at just 28 years old. Knut leads the Swedish O. Kavli AB throughout much of the 1930s, playing a crucial role in growing Kavli's export business. However, his legacy will be very different.

Knut Kavli has a big heart for culture and charitable causes. Known for being generous and socially engaged like his father, he quietly supports young people in education and professional life. After his father’s passing in 1958, Knut becomes Kavli's main shareholder and director. Like his father, he values his employees, believing their welfare is key to success.

But Knut also battles some health issues. He ponders the business's ideal future. He and his wife Karin have no children, and therefore no heirs to take over the Kavli Group the day Knut passes away. Without action, his father's legacy could fragment into many hands. He wants the ownership to remain concentrated with one or a few owners, so that it will grow and develop further, but at the same time continue to be based in Bergen.

On April 25, 1962, the O. Kavli and Knut Kavli Charitable Trust, today called Kavli Trust, is established by Knut Kavli. Knut makes the foundation the owner of the entire Kavli Group.

The statutes make it clear that the purpose is to promote humanitarian work, scientific research and culture. This is to be done by distributing profits from the company. Kavli Trust cannot transfer its shares to outsiders. As long as Kavli exists, Kavli Trust will be the owner of the entire company, and the foundation will distribute the entire surplus to good causes.

Knut Kavli only had time to experience the first few grants from the trust. In the autumn of 1965, he became seriously ill and died.

The original Primula packaging lying on a desk next to a photograph of Olav Kavli


In the following decades, both the Kavli companies and the foundation make a number of changes, both in the operation of the companies and the allocation strategy.

However, the foundation's public purpose, established by Knut Kavli in its statutes, remains steadfast. Profits are returned to society to generate positive change. This reflects the values Knut inherited from his father, who instilled a commitment to a life of impact, not simply wealth.

In his book "Cheese in My Suitcase," Olav Kavli writes:

"A small remark from my father stirred deep thoughts within me – thoughts that were always present but might have taken longer to surface amidst the daily grind. As he and mother were leaving after their visit, he expressed his joy at seeing my success, hinting at an even brighter future. But then he added:"


«Money isn't everything. There are deeper values that truly matter»
Olav Kavli's father


Consumer driven innovation in Kavli


As well as contributing by choosing Kavli in stores, you can contribute by suggesting new and exciting flavour winners for us to develop.

It is important for us at Kavli to create products that engage and delight our customers. We are constantly looking for the next big thing, and consumer driven innovation is a big part of that. If you have a great idea for our next spreadable cheese variety, we’d love to hear it!

We love to spread joy through food, and consumer driven innovation let’s us take it to the next step.


60 years of positive change


One thing that is unique about Kavli, is that all the profits go to charitable causes. We call it sharing with joy! Kavli is owned by Kavli Trust, ensuring the continuation of our core values and our mission to generate positive change for society.

In 2023, Kavli Trust donated NOK 51 million to so many amazing initiatives. In the years since the first grant, we have allocated more than NOK 1.3 billion to charitable causes. Many of the recipients are in areas such as child and adolescent mental health, education, science and research, and climate and environment.

When you buy one of our products in the store, you are making a difference in the world and contribute directly to the profits we share.


100 years of innovation


This year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Olav Kavli's innovative spread cheese. 

Even though the innovation is a 100 years old, we continually experiment and develop new and exciting flavors. Regardless of flavour, the base is always cheese made of milk of the highest quality.

Today, we offer spread cheese in 16 different flavors. In addition to the delicious taste, the convenient packaging and the long shelf-life, makes our cheese perfect for anyone looking for an easy choice every day. 

We love to share! As part of our 100 year celebration, we are touring the country visiting stores with our two mascots handing out samples and other prizes. We are also conducting a competition, the hunt for the golden tube, where you can win a stay at the Kristiansand Zoo and amusement park and other prizes.