FIVE FROM FINLAND: Rethinking food, from field to fork
With climate change, population growth and food security concerns mounting around the globe, Finland is placing greater emphasis on innovative food-related solutions.
Finland is a forerunner in developing sustainable foods for the future and an active player in various international projects and programmes aiming to increase consumer trust towards food products and promote the creation of sustainable food systems.
On the occasion of World Food Day, observed annually on 16 October, we have listed five Finnish companies that are rethinking the ways food is grown, produced, packaged and consumed, and food waste is treated.
Faced with many challenges stemming from radical changes in the climate and population density, modern agriculture is continuously evolving through innovation in science and technology. GrainSense, an Oulu-based agritech startup and a spin-off from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, is helping farmers to improve their productivity and profitability with the world’s first handheld grain analyser.
GrainSense’s portable near-infrared device is designed to measure the levels of protein, moisture, oil and carbohydrates in crops in a matter of seconds. With only a few kernels needed as a sample, the device can be used by farmers in the field even before harvest. Detailed and accurate data about their own produce enables the farmers to make informed decisions.
“In the next 30 years, globally we’ll need to produce 70 per cent more food. But the area available for doing this will not expand,” the company told us earlier. “So, in the future, the focus in food production will need to be more and more on quality rather than quantity.”
Growing one’s own food, something encouraged by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), is a great way to minimise one’s environmental impact. It, however, can feel like an impossible dream for urban dwellers, who don’t usually have a garden, a backyard or even a balcony with enough space for pot plants. Luckily, Turku-based Plantui has a smart solution for everyone wishing to shorten their grocery list by growing their fresh produce at home.
Plantui’s smart hydroponic gardens are designed for growing over 50 different kitchen herbs, salads and trendy microgreens. The patented indoor growing method, paired with intelligent watering and LED light systems, ensures successful growth for the plants year-round.
The smart home garden concept, fit for solving tomorrow’s food challenges, has charmed consumers, investors and distributors around the globe, allowing the company to enjoy expedited growth since its foundation in 2012.
“Plantui is perfect for an urban gardener and responds to global megatrends: self-sufficiency, hyper local growing and sustainability,” said CEO Piia Maaranen.
Being Finland’s largest food exporter, with its products found in some 60 countries, dairy giant Valio has also been ranked as Finland’s most sustainable brand for seven years in a row. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental and social impact of the products they buy. Therefore, the Finnish origin of Valio’s products is fully traceable, along with the company’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis, improve animal welfare and utilise sustainable packaging.
Additionally, Valio has set an ambitious goal to become a carbon neutral dairy producer by 2035.
“It is a good example of our concrete sustainability actions,” stated Timo Pajari, SVP of food solutions sales at Valio. “Instead of just compensating for emissions, we are making major changes in our production chain in order to bring the carbon footprint of dairy down to zero in the future.”
In order to achieve this, Valio is organising carbon farming training for its dairy farmers. It has also developed a grass seed mix that improves the carbon-binding ability of grasslands and is replacing the use of fossil fuels with biogas.
Moreover, Valio is remaining at the vanguard of dairy innovation to provide customers with healthy and trustworthy products suitable for various needs and diets, be it high-quality infant formulas, award-winning meat alternatives, gut-friendly lactose-free milk powders or anything in between.
Takeaway meals and on-the-go foods have become increasingly popular in recent decades, especially in urban areas. This convenience, however, comes with a price: waste pollution caused by single-use plastics. Helsinki-based Koepala is tackling the challenge by creating innovative, sustainable and guilt-free ways to enjoy takeaway.
Koepala’s Aterimo is an eco-friendly and flexible food packaging solution, uniquely designed to be flat during storage and transport and easily transformed into a bowl or cup for an enjoyable dining experience. Aterimo is proven to reduce the need for raw materials by up to 50 per cent compared to other rigid packaging alternatives and to provide value in the form of sustainability, commercial appeal and functionality. The solution has been praised by Finnish circular economy experts.
“Our innovations aim at facilitating a move towards a waste-free fast food culture, where the containers and raw materials are not reduced to waste but recycled one way or the other so that their value is preserved,” explained CEO and founder Janne Asikainen.
Annually, around 88 million tonnes of food is thrown away at a cost of 143 billion euros in the European Union alone, according to the European Commission. Aiming to reduce the amount of food waste through the systematic collection of surplus food from grocery shops and food producers, non-profit organisation From Waste to Taste was founded in Helsinki a few years ago and runs Finland’s first waste-food restaurant, Ravintola Loop.
The restaurant serves versatile dishes made from ingredients that would otherwise be left to perish. Naturally, the menu varies daily based on what is at hand and requires some creativity from the chefs. On top of that, the restaurant offers catering services and donates a big share of the collected food to various charities.
Seeing that bread is one of the most frequently wasted foodstuffs, Ravintola Loop has also commenced brewing beer using surplus bread in co-operation with like-minded partners. Now, Wasted-branded beer is available at selected restaurants, bars and retailers, as well as online.
“We are meant for everyone and make high-quality, gourmet-level meals,” stressed Johanna Kohvakka, the founder of From Waste to Taste. “Food waste is often associated with breadlines, so we want to raise its stature and show there is nothing wrong with this kind of food.”
Text: Zhanna Koiviola
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