Values and innovation driving Finnish food exports
As Finland continues its push toward responsible and sustainable food production, new markets are opening up for the growing number of food and beverage innovations concocted from local ingredients, such as berries, cereals, legumes and, even, air.
Finnish food exports increased by around four per cent to more than 1.5 billion euros in 2020, according to Maaseudun Tulevaisuus.
Sweden held on to its position as the most important destination for food and beverage exports, partly because of its proximity and partly because of its similar food culture and values, accounting for almost 323 million euros of the total. The largest product categories for exports to the country were dairy at 118 million euros, confectionery at almost 50 million euros, alcohol and beverages at over 35 million euros, and meat at over 30 million euros.
Exports to China, meanwhile, continued to grow at a breakneck pace, with the country emerging as the second largest export market as a result of cumulative growth of nearly 300 per cent in the past couple of years.
Momentum is building also for culinary innovations concocted from berries and cereals such as oats, rye and barley. Along with innovation and, of course, taste, safety, responsibility and sustainability have become important selling points for food from Finland.
The Finnish food industry is striving to become carbon neutral and slash greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 under a sustainability roadmap introduced in 2020. Various companies across the industry have already taken action to, for example, increase the use of bioenergy, by-products and sustainable packaging, reduce waste, and optimise supply chain logistics.
“Finnish food production strives for ecologically sustainable solutions,” statedEsa Wrang, director of Food from Finland at Business Finland. “Short production chains guarantee transparency in both production conditions and production methods. Finnish food, especially local food, is based on the recycling of nutrients between production and consumption and the utilisation of local energy resources. At its best, it is a carbon-neutral local economy where environmental emissions are minimised.”
“Many of the food export companies are already carbon neutral, and we’ve even welcomed the first carbon-negative products,” he added.
Food producers in the country also place an emphasis on animal and human wellbeing, as evidenced by the low use of antibiotics in animal husbandry – it is only allowed for treating diseases – and pesticides in farming.
Arctic Blue Beverages, a company known especially for the award-winning Arctic Blue Gin, revealed last month it is launching the world’s first gin-based oat liqueur to tap into the rapidly growing market for dairy alternatives in Europe and the US. Made from Finnish gluten-free oats, Arctic Blue Oat is expected to garner interest especially from eco-conscious consumers as it is organic and, unlike traditional cream liqueurs, vegan friendly.
“So far, oats has been mainly used in dairy alternatives. We have noted that oats also works as an excellent base for an alcohol product,” commentedValtteri Eroma, chief executive of Arctic Blue Beverages.
The liqueur, he added, will be made available in its home market before the summer and in other parts of the world during the course of 2021.
Protein from beans and thin air
The opportunity to make a positive impact while turning a profit has been seized also by long-established food industry heavyweights in Finland. Raisio in April announced it will strengthen its position in the plant-based food segment by acquiring Verso Food, the Finnish company behind a range of popular fava bean-based meat substitutes, from Norway’s Kavli.
“One of our key strategic targets is growth built on plant-based value added products,” statedPekka Kuusniemi, CEO of Raisio.
“With Verso Food, we will achieve leadership in the rapidly growing plant-based protein market in Finland. Through the acquisition, we will also gain production technology that complements our strategic capabilities as well as product development and marketing expertise.”
While Verso Food has seen its sales increase markedly in recent years, its operating result has been dragged into the red by sizeable investments in sales and product development. Raisio stated that it has devised a comprehensive value-creation and integration strategy to deliver continued growth and improved profitability.
Although certainly applicable, a label such as animal-free does not quite do justice to Solein, a nutritionally complete protein made from electricity and carbon dioxide in the air by Solar Foods. The Finnish startup reported this month it is proceeding towards commercial-scale production of its mind-boggling innovation after receiving a 10 million-euro investment from The Finnish Climate Fund.
The investment will be used to build and begin operations at a demonstrator facility by early 2023.
“We want to disconnect food production from the accelerating consumption of natural resources,” announcedPasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods. “It is fascinating to be part of making this happen. We already have detailed plans for the production facility, but we will disclose more about them towards the end of the year when construction begins.”
Producing the protein generates only about one per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions of meat protein and 20 per cent of the emissions of plant protein, according to Solar Foods. Its environmental benefits, though, extend beyond emissions, as the process being disconnected from agriculture and climate enables dramatic changes in land use, soil treatment and water usage – possibly making production possible even in space.
Solar Foods has developed about 20 food products using the protein.
“Solein vanishes into daily meals while […] maintaining its rich nutritional value and offering a unified solution that caters to virtually every imaginable meal of today and tomorrow,” stated Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, CTO of Solar Foods.
Innovation from outside the food industry
Fourkind, a Helsinki-based machine learning specialist, has supplied Sweden’s Mackmyra Whisky an artificial intelligence system that supports and automates some of the tasks of master blenders to discover exciting new flavour combinations.
The system sifted through 70 million possible combinations using existing recipes, cask information and customer and expert reviews to establish a framework for recipes that, while unique, match the intrinsic character of the award-winning Swedish distillery. Intelligens, the first product distilled from the marriage between craftsmanship and technology, has already been awarded by the American Distilling Institute.
“This methodology can have an impact in different industries globally,” viewed Jarno Kartela, principal machine learning partner at Fourkind.
“We are showing the way forward, and these new machine learning solutions can be used to generate products that retain the spirit, look and feel of the brands behind them while at the same time being new and unique.”