A man and woman pose for the camera
 Volare is reducing the environmental impact of the feed and pet food industries with its products made with black soldier fly larvae. Image: Volare

Finnish food industry shows insatiable hunger for innovation

Finnish food companies have reported on undertakings related to sustainable protein production, plant-based meat substitutes and Tex-Mex delights.

Aleksi Teivainen

27.10.2022

Solar Foods, a Finnish producer of what it believes is the world’s most sustainable protein, Solein, revealed roughly a month ago that it has been selected to partake in an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) by the European Commission.

The project is the second of its kind that seeks to foster research and innovation, first industrial deployment and the construction of infrastructure in the hydrogen value chain.

meatballs and spaghetti

Solar Foods is bringing a breath of fresh air to meat alternatives. Image: Solein

Solein originates in nature and grows like any ordinary plant with the exception that the growth is fuelled not by soil and water but by renewable electricity and a handful of ingredients captured from air: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The micro-organism is cultivated in a bioreactor filled with water obtained from air by feeding it carbon dioxide and nutrients like calcium, nitrogen and potassium.

The growth process is 20 times more efficient than photosynthesis, according to the company.

Pasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods, told that the company is presently building its first hydrogen fermentation factory in Vantaa, Southern Finland. Completing the factory, he viewed, will be a step toward the stage of first industrial deployment that seeks to secure a large-scale factory investment during the project.

“Production is being scaled up in stages because the technology is new,” he said.

“Public support for the green transition is particularly important because environmental technology involves large and long-term investments. In this case, the question is how to implement the first one.”

A bioreactor containing yellow material.

Solar Foods uses a bioreactor to cultivate what it believes is the most sustainable protein in the world, Solein. Image: Solar Foods

The European Commission’s IPCEIs are member state-led cross-border innovation and infrastructure projects with the potential to contribute significantly to the aims of the EU. The 13 member states that prepared the second hydrogen project will provide up to 5.2 billion euros in funding, which is expected to unlock around seven billion euros in private investment.

“Hydrogen can be a game-changer for Europe,” stated Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. “It is key in diversifying our energy sources and helping us to reduce our dependency on Russian gas. We need to bring this niche market to scale. That is why we are creating a Hydrogen Bank.”

The hydrogen project also includes another Finnish company, P2X Solutions.

Environmental impact brought to heel

Food innovations from Finland are also targeting four-legged consumers. The Finnish companies Alvar Pet and Volare have recently partnered to produce a range of insect-based dry foods and treats for dogs.

“To our understanding, this is the very first insect-based dog food made with Nordic ingredients,” said Jarna Hyvönen, COO of Volare. According to the company, insects are suitable alternative for dogs with sensitivities and allergies to common ingredients.

The treats are the first product to roll off the production line at Volare’s pilot production plant for insect-based protein in Hyvinkää, Southern Finland. The company announced last autumn that it is investing one million euros in automating the plant, which utilises side streams from the food industry, such as the inedible parts of grains, as raw materials in a fully automated process whereby black soldier fly larvae is used to turn them into high-quality protein and lipids.

two women holiding a dog and doggie treats

Alvar Pet and Volare have jointly developed the first product to include Volare’s insect ingredient. Image: Volare

The protein and lipids can be used to replace environmentally and ethically questionable ingredients to reduce the adverse environmental impact of pet food and animal feed production, for example. The European fish feed and pet foods industries have relied on protein produced from soya and animals to fuel their continuing growth, thereby contributing to climate change, overfishing and deforestation.

“Investing in the pilot plant is an important step towards the large-scale change we want to create,” Matti Tähtinen, Volare CTO, stated at the time.

A spin-off from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the startup also secured an investment of 700 000 euros last year and an investment grant of 450 000 euros from Business Finland.

“We evaluated a large number of applications [for the investment grant],” told Kati Oikarinen, advisor at Business Finland.

“Volare’s solution stood out due to its exceptional innovativeness and environmental advantages on two fronts. The solution both solves a food industry side stream problem and creates a highly sustainable feed ingredient for the animal feed industry.”

Volare powder

Volare developed a circular method to process residual streams from the food industry into reusable protein powder and fats. Image: Volare

The Finnish startup has also cooked up plans to start building a commercial-scale plant in 2023. CEO Tuure Parviainen revealed that the plant should have an output capable of feeding, for example, 4 750 000 salmon a year.

Volare last year highlighted in announcing the 700 000-euro investment that the global insect market is forecast to grow by 26–29 per cent annually in terms of both value and output until 2027. The interest, it suggested, stems widely from the ecological benefits of replacing the land, water and energy-intensive ingredients such as soya and animal proteins.

Paulig unfurls tortilla plant in Belgium

Paulig in September celebrated the opening of its new 45 million-euro tortilla production plant in Roeselare, Belgium – its largest investment ever outside Finland.

A table spread full of Tex-Mex

Paulig sells its tortillas under the Santa Maria brand. Image: Paulig

Rolf Ladau, CEO of Paulig, said the Tex-Mex product category is growing rapidly and the factory enables the food company to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the growth with a view to doubling its Tex-Mex sales in Europe.

“The factory also strengthens our ability to innovate and makes it possible to continue developing the product category,” he viewed.

The factory consists of three production lines, enabling it to crank out both wheat and gluten-free tortillas, and is expected to create over 60 jobs, mostly for operators, technicians, team managers and warehouse workers. Its location makes it possible to deliver products to various parts of Europe, added Thomas Panteli, director of supply chain and procurement at Paulig.

“The factory is equipped with the newest technology, with which we are able to respond to the expectations of our clients, develop our product innovations and consolidate our responsibility promise,” he said.

A newly built production plant basking in sunlight.

The plant should enable Paulig to meet its goal of doubling the sales of Tex-Mex products in Europe. Image: Paulig

Tex-Mex products accounted for slightly more than half of the 966 million euros the company reported in revenue in 2021. Its other core product categories are coffees, snacks, spices and cold drinks.

The Finnish family-owned business, which is seeking to become a responsibility pioneer in the food industry, has committed to operating the factory in compliance with the globally leading carbon-neutrality guidelines, the CarbonNeutral Protocol.

Redefining meat substitute in Finland

MeEat, an Espoo-based producer and distributor of plant-based meat products, will bring New-Meat, the latest product of Israel’s Redefine Meat, to Finland.

Restaurants in Helsinki, the company said, will gain access to a variety of plant-based meat cuts and minced meat that with taste and texture that are indistinguishable from animal meat. Mikko Karell, CEO of MeEat, said New-Meat bridges a gap in the company’s portfolio by enabling it to approach the high-end culinary scene.

“MeEat has been working in the meat industry for over 25 years, so we pride ourselves in knowing meat inside out,” he told. “What Redefine Meat has achieved with its new technology is incredible – a level of taste and texture that doesn’t compromise on the meat-eating experience.”

A meat substitute on a wooden board

Made from vegetable protein, the product’s taste and texture are indistinguishable from animal meat, says MeEat. Image: MeAat

The first restaurant to list dishes using the meat substitutes is Emo. The restaurant is excited to expand its plant-based menu to quench the growing appetite for meat alternatives among Finns, according to executive chef Niko Suomalainen.

The excitement was shared by Redefine Meat.

“To have the buy-in of all stakeholders in the meat supply chain – from meat distributors right down to restaurants – gives us the ideal platform to roll out New-Meat across Finland,” commented CEO Eshchar Ben-Shitrit.

The Israeli company produces its cholesterol-free plant-based meat without any genetically modified ingredients or animal by-products.

Planting a tasty seed

Plant-based meat substitutes are viewed not only as means to reduce the environmental strain of meat production, but also as means to increase protein self-sufficiency amid growing threats to food security.

VTT is leading an international project that seeks to utilise plant-based side streams as protein ingredients. The project focuses particularly on utilising sunflower press cakes, a by-product of sunflower oil production, as a protein ingredient and designing hybrid and fully plant-based meat alternatives to consumers, outlined Nesli Sözer, research professor at VTT.

Another focal point are consumer attitudes and perceptions of meat substitutes.

“Consumer acceptance has a key role in development of feasible business cases around meat alternatives. Sensory properties such as taste and meat-like texture are the most influential predictors of meat alternatives acceptance,” Sözer said .

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