Sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword recently, with the ongoing pandemic forcing us to take a critical eye to how we interact with our surroundings. When it comes to food, its role is crucial. Food production uses a sizeable proportion of the planet’s resources and the global food industry is thus hungry for innovation to alleviate its negative impact.
Finland is moving steadily towards a healthy and planet-friendly food chain, highlighting the importance of sustainability on multiple levels: from ingredients all the way to the packaging that products are in.
Finns are known for their do-it-yourself approach, which naturally also spurs sustainable solutions in food sourcing and production. Finland’s everyman’s rights – under which anyone is allowed to pick wild berries and mushrooms – mean that it’s easy to eat local and create a positive change by reducing the overall environmental footprint.
This deep-rooted sustainable approach resonates well with many local businesses. Helsinki Wildfoods has turned the do-it-yourself attitude into a must-share. Its range of food products and instructive courses boost awareness of Finnish wild food and help people to make the most of what grows around them.
Urban farming is having its moment in the sun as well. Helsieni has come up with a novel method of sourcing local ingredients while helping to reduce waste. The company offers self-starter kits that enable people to cultivate tasty and nutritious mushrooms at home with used coffee grounds. The idea has proven palatable with those concerned about food miles and eager to live greener lives.
Much in line with the growing trend of hyperlocal food sourcing is also Espoo-based iFarm, recently named Best Ag/Food Tech Startup at The Europas Awards 2020. The eco-friendly vertical farms developed by this enthusiastic team with an eye towards sustainability can be used to grow fresh produce for personal or commercial purposes all year round.
The quest for perfect protein
A general shift in the consumer preference towards alternative sources of protein has become a major focus of interest among Finnish food innovators. New promising protein sources could help to decrease consumers’ animal-protein intake and ease the environmental burden caused by livestock farming, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Much is being done to satisfy the global appetite for sustainably produced proteins by the agricultural and food technology startups selected for FAN Nordic Hub, a Helsinki-based accelerator programme orchestrated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, dairy giant Valio and the University of Helsinki.
Solar Foods, for example, has developed an award-winning way to produce natural protein from renewable electricity and air. In the future, this clean and cost-competitive protein could be grown and harvested anywhere, even in space. Meanwhile, eniferBio is an expert in producing valuable single-cell mycoprotein from industrial side streams that were previously considered worthless.
Kuopio-based Probitat specialises in fermented plant-based food designs, including all kinds of fermented proteins, while Entoprot is committed to providing quality insect proteins for feed and food with its affordable and fully automated technological solution.
Some more buzz in the field of insect-derived proteins is being created by Turku-based Entis. The company has developed four insect-based product families, and its protein snacks and cricket chocolates recently hit the shelves in Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Moreover, Finland is seeking to strengthen its position in the global plant protein market with the recently announced EXPRO Project, funded by Business Finland. Aiming to develop sustainable and appealing plant-based proteins from domestic raw materials such as broad beans, oats, rapeseed and other crops and cereals, the project could propel Finland into a leader in this fast-growing sector.
An innovation announced recently by Avena Nordic Grain, part of the food industry group Apetit, is yet another feather in Finnish food innovators’ cap. The company has developed a unique rapeseed-based plant protein and fibre powder suitable for human consumption from oil seed expellers that were previously utilised solely in animal feed applications.
Keeping the balance
A visit to any Finnish supermarket reveals that the country is home to a plethora of new disruptive meat alternatives, various veggie delights and healthy functional foods, such as the gut-friendly snacks designed by Helsinki-based Potential Foods and sold under the Nosht brand.
Interestingly enough, meat substitutes are often targeted at people who are not necessarily vegetarians or vegans. These Finnish foods are about bringing variety to the plate and helping people to make their diets more balanced.
Pulled oats by Gold&Green Foods is a great example. The company’s combination of oats, fava beans and pea protein took Finland by storm and its range of products is now set to appear on plates around the world. The product, recognised as a game changer at Horecava Innovation Award 2020, is touted as being not only nutritious, but also easy to use in home-cooked meals.
More sustainable options using Nordic fava beans have been developed by Verso Food. Its Härkis- and Beanit-branded products have become a hit in Finland and are now landing on dinner tables in other countries, including the UK.
After all, we are what we eat.