Composite o Inika Superfods and Oatlaws promotional images
 Foodiq’s company portfolio of brands in Europe and the US includes Inika Superfoods (left) and Oatlaws. Image: Foodiq

Finnish firms give food and agricultural industries a lot to chew on

Companies in Finland are looking to shake up the food and agricultural industries by leveraging their expertise in vertical farming, plant-based food production and utilisation of agricultural side streams.

Aleksi Teivainen

11.08.2022

CH-Bioforce, a technology startup based in Raisio, Southwest Finland, in June announced it has secured funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC).

The up to 15 million-euro funding injection will help the startup to build a biomass processing plant that utilises industrial and, especially, agricultural side streams in the roughly 25 000-resident town located less than 10 kilometres north-west of Turku.

“The EIC Accelerator funding is a significant achievement,” rejoiced Petri Tolonen, CEO of CH-Bioforce. “Our business plan has been thoroughly reviewed and approved, which will also help us obtain other financing.”

A pair of scientists at work in a laboratory

CH-Bioforce seeks to utilise bio raw materials to end the increase of industrial waste. Image: CH Bioforce

CH-Bioforce has developed a technology for fractionating most types of biomass into higher-value materials in an economically feasible way. The technology has proven capable of separating hemicellulose, sulphur-free lignin and dissolving pulp from raw materials that are routinely left on fields, such as straw and wood.

The fractionation process is almost free of chemicals thanks to the use of pressurised hot-water extraction and requires only little water thanks to a closed-water circulation system. Most of the water is additionally sourced from the biomass itself as wood, for example, contains about 50 per cent water.

Tolonen highlighted that much of the raw materials left over from agriculture is usually disposed of by incineration.

Three men in suits smiling at the camera in a forest.

Sebastian von Schoultz, Nicholas Lax and Lari Vähäsalo are the minds behind CH-Bioforce. Image: CH-Bioforce

“In agriculture, a lot of usable raw materials are left over. With our solution, lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose can be separated almost completely and very purely from straw, for example. These raw materials can be used to replace oil-based raw materials in the manufacture of a wide range of consumer products, for example.”

The EIC has previously granted the startup funding designed to help small and medium enterprises to leverage innovations in deep technology in pursuit of international growth.

Foodiq bags EUR 13 million

Foodiq, a Finnish developer and producer of plant-based products, in June revealed it has raised 13 million euros in funding, a boon it intends to use to ramp up production capacity, expand operations into new markets and product categories, accelerate international growth, and add talent to its organisation.

The seven-year-old startup also intends to concentrate its operations in Finland to Järvenpää, where it recently acquired the production facility of Gold & Green Foods.

The startup is the only provider of both product development and production services to the food industry, with the capability to produce a range of products from snacks and oats-based beverages to protein-rich products. Its goal is to speed up the transition to more plant-based diets and climate-friendly food production by bringing to market delicious plant-based options made from locally sourced raw materials with sustainable methods.

Lorries at the loading dock of a production facility.

Foodiq in June acquired the production facility of Gold & Green Foods, a part of Finnish dairy giant Valio. Image: Foodiq

“We help our customer companies to move to more sustainable plant-based production that meets the needs of consumers,” outlined Robert Savikko, CEO of Foodiq.

“Responsible food production is an integral part of our operations: it is reflected in how we choose our subcontractors and raw material producers, as well as our own actions to minimise our carbon footprint. Now we are taking the next step, and with the help of increased capacity we are expanding our operations more and more outside of Finland as well.”

The funding round was led by Nicoya, a food technology investment firm based in Stockholm, Sweden.

CEO Christopher Slim said Foodiq is a “true pioneer” in producing clean-label meat and dairy alternatives, as well as functional foods. The funding round, he added, will enable the startup to build a foundation for faster international growth and make a bigger impact in its home market, the Nordics.

Many shades of green

Finland has proven a fertile ground for innovation in the field of food and agricultural technology.

The Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) has developed a solution for using gypsum, a by-product of the chemicals industry, for improving agricultural soil and reducing the likelihood of phosphate and organic carbon ending up in waterways and causing problems such as fish mortality and toxic algae blooms.

“The gypsum treatment strengthens the structure of the soil,” Petri Ekholm, a scientist at Syke, told Innovation Origins in June. “It also helps retain nutrients and organic matter, which improves sustainability of the agricultural sector. The fact that gypsum is actually a waste product for which a use has now been found also makes it a sustainable solution.”

“In terms of climate change, you prevent organic carbon from leaking out of the soil into waterways, where it can be subsequently converted into carbon dioxide or even methane.”

A tractor ploughing a harvested field.

The Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) has discovered a way to use gypsum, a by-product of the chemicals industry, to improve soil quality and prevent the leakage of carbon and phosphates to waterways. Image: Jannis Knorr / Pexels

Metagrow, in turn, has garnered attention with its patent-pending method and technology for vertical farming. The Helsinki-based startup is currently in the proof-of-concept phase, aiming to have piloted its solution successfully and wrapped up its first funding round by the end of this year.

The solution will be tested and scaled up in collaboration with urban farming specialists from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.

Vertical farming solution to be delivered to restaurants in Helsinki

Arctic Farming in July announced it is preparing to make the first deliveries of its vertical-farming solution after raising 150 000 euros in seed funding.

The Espoo-based startup has developed technology that promises to enable the hyperlocal production of food plants, such as herbs and leafy greens, in any indoor facility with access to water and electricity, regardless of the geographical location or time of day. Consisting of both hardware and software, the easily scalable solution is completely automated and ready to use straight out of the box.

Moving food production closer to the end user is means to reduce reliance on global logistics systems and food waste, according to Arctic Farming.

Two men stand in front of a vertical farming solution

Arctic Farming’s vertical farming walls were on display at Gastro Helsinki 2022 in May. Image: Arctic Farming

“Instead of shipping fresh food for thousands of kilometres around the globe, we believe that localised indoor farming presents the future of the food production with hyperlocal vertical farming offering a novel solution to many of the problems faced by the industry,” stated Oliver Rotko, CEO of Arctic Farming.

Such problems include supply-chain disruptions and the vast amounts of water, fertilisers and pesticides required by traditional farming methods.

The first deliveries will be made to prominent restaurants in Helsinki, an approach the startup hopes will boost its client acquisition and help to validate its technology. Arctic Farming also stated that the timing of its market entry is opportune as the food industry is finally returning to normal after over two years of restrictions due to COVID-19.

The startup has tested the vertical-farming solution successfully with more than a dozen different plants, ranging from herbs and leafy greens to more protein-rich plants like soya, in the past two years.

International expertise, locally
A person sitting at the desk and speaking into the microphone

Silvia Gaiani, a native of Italy, talked to Good News from Finland about what it is like to lead a long-term research project on food innovation and entrepreneurship in Finland. Her focus is on figuring out how to increase competitiveness while embracing innovation in South Ostrobothnia, a region that is sometimes called the food province of Finland.

“There is a lot going on in the region in terms of entrepreneurial activities, new business models and new policies,” she told. “At the same time, local companies are facing a number of challenges, including high production costs, a low level of internationalisation and a lack of networking activities among companies.”

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