Illustration of magnifying glass and plants
Plant an innovative seed and it will grow into a diverse range of plant-based innovations. Image: Julia Bushueva

FIVE FROM FINLAND: Plant-based innovations

Green walls, indoor gardens, wild food, environmentally friendly plastics and cholesterol-lowering foodstuffs – it has to be plants from Finland.

In Finland, life exists in harmony with nature. How can it not, with around 75 per cent of the land mass covered in forest? From this has grown an innovative approach to utilising plants in a number of industries.

Naava

Naava green wall in the office

Naava is reconnecting people with nature by creating human-friendly indoor environments. Image: Naava

If stale air at the office or home has you climbing up the walls, this company has the solution – one that technically could be climbed as well. Naava’s intelligent green walls promote wellbeing, purify the air and can be used as space dividers. And on top of that, they simply look good.

Combining the benefits of nature, modern technology and Nordic design, the green walls feature a system of active biofilters that magnify the natural ability of plants to reduce harmful organic compounds in air. The efficiency of this revolutionary innovation is backed by a number of independent studies.

Earlier this year, Naava secured a seven million-euro equity investment from a group of investors led by Stockholm-based Nidoco. The company said it will use the funding to fuel its international growth, as well as develop new products and solutions for healthier indoor spaces.

“We are driven by science and, more specifically, biology,” pointed out Naava’s co-founder Aki Soudunsaari. “Human beings, whether in an office space or the comfort of one’s home, must aspire to live in tandem with nature.”

Plantui

man using a smart indoor garden

Plantui puts some green in your kitchen – or any other room at home, for that matter. Image: Plantui

The story of Turku-based Plantui started almost a decade ago out of a need to enable growing plants year-round, even during the darkest days of the Finnish winter. The solution was found in smart indoor gardens that treat plants to just the right amount of water, light and nutrients.

A dream come true for all gardening enthusiasts, as well as those without even a hint of a green thumb, Plantui solutions allow dozens of kitchen herbs, salads and trendy microgreens to thrive indoors under minimal supervision.

Moreover, the smart gardens have low energy consumption, a long life cycle due to their modular design and are fully recyclable. Less food waste and a smaller footprint compared to supermarket greens are also among the advantages of Plantui gardening solutions.

“Plantui is perfect for an urban gardener and responds to global megatrends: self-sufficiency, hyperlocal growing and sustainability,” said CEO Piia Maaranen.

METTÄ

a gift pack of METTÄ food products

With its delicious and healthy treats, METTÄ is bringing flavours from the Nordic forest to kitchens around the world. Image: METTÄ

With its roots in the Helsinki Wildfoods collective that aimed to boost awareness of Finnish wild food, METTÄ is an exciting food brand on a mission to share the pure flavours of Nordic forests with the rest of the world.

Based on the principles of transparency and integrity, METTÄ uses only the best natural Finnish ingredients, such as berries, herbs and mushrooms, with no preservatives or additives in sight. The product line includes herbal teas, forest-flavoured honeys, berry powders and various seasonings.

METTÄ also encourages modern urbanites to reconnect with nature and explore the intriguing world of free superfoods by promoting foraging walks, workshops and webinars together with Foraging in Finland and reputed biologist and herbalist Anna Nyman.

“It’s surprising how little the Finnish food culture has been productised or exported,” said METTÄ’s co-founder Annika Hannus. “We should face our consumers boldly and proudly tell them about the tastes of our pristine and pure nature.”

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

orange peel

VTT’s patented technology uses citrus peel as raw material for bio-based PEF plastics, an environmentally friendly alternative to PET plastics. Image: Adobe

Of course, a list of innovations would not be complete without the input of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. About a year ago, a VTT research team developed a technology for using agricultural waste containing pectin, such as citrus peel and sugar beet pulp, as raw material for polyethylene furanoate (PEF) plastics for replacing polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

With the annual production of fossil-based PET products estimated at 30 million tonnes, the plant-based PEF can lower the carbon footprint of the products by 50 per cent. Moreover, PEF provides a better shelf life for foods thanks to its superior barrier properties.

“In the near future, you may buy orange juice in bottles that are made out of orange peel,” envisioned Holger Pöhler, former professor of practice at VTT. “VTT’s novel technology provides a circular approach to using food waste streams for high-performance food packaging material, and at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Raisio

a range of Benecol food products

The plant stanol ester in Benecol foods is often regarded as one of the world’s greatest nutritional discoveries in the past 30 years. Image: Benecol

High levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Often the result of poor lifestyle choices, high cholesterol is preventable and treatable with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Established in 1939, this company is tackling cholesterol problems with its range of Benecol solutions based on plant stanols, compounds that are found naturally in cereals, fruits and vegetables and are proven to lower cholesterol.

Promoting the importance of healthy eating, Raisio operates in over ten countries and exports to more than 40 countries. The key markets for Benecol products are currently Finland, the UK, Poland, Ireland and Belgium, and the company aims to further invest in growing the Benecol brand internationally.

Last year, Raisio strengthened its position in the plant-based food segment by acquiring Verso Food, the company known for its range of innovative Härkis and Beanit-branded meat substitutes made from Finnish-grown fava beans.

“The acquisition […] is an excellent fit for Raisio’s strategy. One of our key strategic targets is growth built on plant-based value-added products,” explained Pekka Kuusniemi, president and CEO of Raisio. “With Verso Food, we will achieve leadership in the rapidly growing plant-based protein market in Finland.”

Leena Saarinen and Tarja Ollila, the sister duo heavily involved in making Härkis plant-based proteins a hit in Finland and beyond, recently received the environmental Blue Globe Award. This, according to Ollila, proves that “the significance of food for the environment and supporting climate action is understood”.

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