New companies in Organic Food Finland

Organic Food Finland is an Export Group specialised in exporting organic products from Finland. The best short way to describe our activity is that we (Erkki & Lhassan) act as outsourced organic export managers for the companies involved. We always represent the companies directly as the companies Export Manager would – we don’t trade in their products.

This makes sense because exporting organic products is a special field of activity and as a business different from the companies’ domestic business. We at OFF have long experience and deep understanding of organics and the organic market and good networks which we constantly develop. The companies benefit from this and in the end of the day also customers benefit. OFF is your contact point for organic products from Finland!

Each year we talk with new companies about joining the group. These might be organic food manufacturers who feel they should expand into export or mainstream manufacturers who think of expanding into organics. This year two new companies decided to join the group. Both happen to be on the Finnish West Coast:

Boströms Bakery is a bakery company specialised in swiss rolls, muffins, cakes and cookies for which it has highly efficient production lines. Recently they have developed organic muffins which will be the starting point for the organic export activities. The delicious muffins come in three tastes: chocolate, vanilla and lemon but more flavours can be developed as requested. The products can be marketed both as private label to retailers and as branded products.

Greenfinn’s fantastic products bring us an extension in the berry line where Maustaja with jams and Kiantama with wild berries are already represented. Greenfinn’s products are 100% cold pressed juices made from the nutrition-rich berries from Finland. Most noteworthy, Greenfinns is a pioneer in organic Sea Buckthorn which is organically farmed by them, but the range includes also wild bilberry, mountain cranberry (lingonberry), wild cranberry, black currant and aronia juices. The products will be marketed under the Napapiiri Organics brand.

8 companies participate in Organic Food Finland at the moment: please visit our web-site for more information.

Napapiiri Organics is launched – in Finland

“Napapiiri Organics” is the joint brand that we have developed in the Organic Food Finland export group. It is a new brand developed for export but it is also an attempt to extend the cooperation between our companies into brand-building. So instead of each company developing its own brand we do it together. The brand is based on the strengths of Finnish organic products – be they cultivated or wild-picked – the strong connection Finns have to nature and the Nordic image. For more visit the Napapiiri organics web-site.

The first products that have been developed in the brand are the berry-based sugar-free jams (bilberry, mountain cranberry, wild cranberry, cloudberry, sea buckthorn and Tarya’s mix). These have been on the Finnish market since last summer through the organic wholesaler Makrobios. but now they are actually launched in the supermarket multiples. The Prisma hypermarkets, larger S-Supermarkets, Stockmann department stores and Euromarket hypermarkets will have the products in their range starting 1st May. We’ll see soon enough how our export concept works on the domestic market. The Napapiiri Organics Cloudberry jam already won the “Organic Product of the Year” price in Finland in February.

On the export side our main focus is the UK where we will be presenting the Napapiiri Organics jams at the Natural Products show on Community Foods stand giving tastings etc. Also other Napapiiri Organics products which are in the pipeline are presented: the berry flavored oatmeal pouches (bilberry, sea buckthorn) and dried sugar-free berries (bilberry, mountain lingonberry). We are also focusing on Sweden and we are already selling to Malaysia.

Picture: our key account manager Lhassan El Farkoussi besides the Napapiiri Organics showcase at BioFach in February.

Natural Products London

So Natural Products was two weeks ago in London. After the show it has been so busy that I have found no time to come back to the blog. As the pictures shows, also the show was busy and we had a lot of interesting discussions with clients. The most tangible result was that the Napapiiri Organics range of berry preserves will be available at Community Foods’ Cash&Carry; starting from the next price list in May. So it means there is a lot of work ahead to ensure they find their way to the shop shelves. At least reactions to tastings at NPE were very positive with the Sea Buckthorn preserve probably the best liked type. But there is a lot of communication to be done. What is cloudberry or sea buckthorn? How do you use the preserves? What are the benefits? All the berries in the Napapiiri range are arctic superberries that grow wild in Finland. All of them have great health benefits but people are of course not aware of them. For example wild bilberry from Finland contains 8 times more antocyanins and flavonoids than North American blueberry. This is the berry the Japanese pharmaceutical industry is buying for preparing eye-sight enhancing supplements. The Americans are making all the health claims but we have the real product! Also lingonberry – called also mountain cranberry – has much higher content of health benefitting substancies than North American cultivated cranberry. But all this needs to be communicated. A good source of information is the web site of Arctic Flavors.

An other new product we were presentig at NPE was Nordic Rape Seed Oil from Virgino. Virgino is a very high quality cold pressed oil that can be used for salad dressings as well as frying. The quality is now even better than it was earlier because Virgino has recently moved into new facilities and has new machinery for pressing the oil. What is special about the Virgino rape seed oil is that it is produced from turnip summer rape seed (Brassica rapa ssp oleifera) while most rape seed cultivars are Brassica napus cultivars. The English language makes no difference between the two species but let us call ours Nordic Rape Seed as it is hardly cultivated outside Finland anymore. The fatty acid composition of Nordic Rape Seed Oil is more favorable than in normal rape seed oil and by far more favorable than other major oils like olive oil or sunflower oil. It contains only 5% saturated fatty acids (the bad ones) and has Omega 3 and Omega 6 is perfect balance. But here again we have quite a task in communicating and differentiating. The goods news is that everyone at NPE who had the opportunity to taste Virgino was impressed. It should also be mentioned that all Finnish rape seed cultivars are 00-erusic acid cultivars (0% erisic acid) and GMO-free.

On our way to London

Next weekend (15th and 16th April) the Grand Hall Olympia in London will again host the Natural and Organics Products Europe show, which is the most important happening of its kind in the UK. Of course it is more “natural” (what ever that means) than organic but it is an important show for organic products. While it is far smaller than BioFach in Germany – only one hall compared to 9 in BioFach – it is a good show. Next weekend Organic Food Finland will be exhibiting there for the second time. Five companies from our group will be present: Helsinki Mills, Kiantama, Laihian Mallas, Maustaja and Virgino. Although not a separate company, also Napapiiri Organics will be presented.

In Finland most people would expect Germany to be our biggest export market for organic food. But in my experience Germany is more challenging than the UK. Almost as long as I have been involved in organic export – since 1997 – the UK has been the biggest export market for our products. This was (and is) true for the organic liquorice I developed together with Makulaku Confectionery and it has been true for Helsinki Mills until now. Why is this?

Since the organic boom in the late -90’s the UK has been highly dependent on imports for organic food – the worst year I believe 80% of organic food sold in the UK was imported. Now that is down to 50-60% but still a high figure in a market of 2,2 billion euro. This situation evolved because the market growth was so high that the domestic production could not meet the demand. And the UK was not yet subsidising organic farming in a similar manner as what happened in most other European countries. Another feature that seems to be especially strong in the UK is the constant discussion about food scares. You can hardly open a British newspaper without reading some article about food security problems of some kind. British comsumers are not that confident about British food. (By comparison, in Finland consumers are so confident about domestic Finnish food that it sometimes worries me.) Also British food culture is not as strong as in most continental European countries – it is acceptable to think that foreign food can be of higher quality than British food – and if it is organic, also safer and better for you. However the “Buy British” campaign must have affected this to some extent in favour of UK producers. In the end one factor could also be that I am personally pretty fluent in English which makes communication and following the market easier.

Now the UK organic market is booming again at a 30% growth rate even though there is no acute food scare. I presume what’s driving the market now is the topic of climate change becoming so important in mainstream media. Maybe the environmental motive to buy is getting more important now.

So what is our target at NPE? To introduce Finnish wild berries in the form of the Napapiiri range of sugar-free berry jams from Maustaja Ltd – and as dried or IQF berries and concentrates (bilberry, lingonberry, cranberry) from Kiantama Ltd. To introduce for the first time the organic malts and malt extracts from Laihian Mallas Ltd. And organic Nordic rape seed oil from Virgino. And some other products. Please visit us at stand 2331 and have a look!

BioFach 2007: Busier than ever

BioFach is over and a few days have passed. It was the fourth time we had a joint Finnish stand at BioFach and definately the busiest so far. Until now Saturday at BioFach has been relatively calm giving some possibility to get off the stand and make a tour in other halls. Now that kind of breaks didn’t come before Sunday.

This time we were 5 companies from the Organic Food Finland export group: Finnamyl, Helsinki Mills, Kankaisten Öljykasvit, Kiantama and Maustaja. As a typical feature of 2006/07 two important products: potato starch and oat flakes were already out of stock. Wild berry products from Kiantama and ketchup and Napapiiri jams from Maustaja seemed to be drawing the most attention. We received a few orders and a lot of follow-up work to be done by myself and Lhassan (right in the picture).

There is definately nothing that can be compared to BioFach. Still also local shows are necessary – see you at Natural Products Europe in London in April.

On our way to BioFach

The first time I visited BioFach was back in 1995. I was travelling with a friend of mine who has been one of the key officers responsible for organic farming issues in the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (well, if he ever reads this and wants to comment, he can put his name in). I remember we were quite interested in the degustation of organic wines and I did get long lasting friends at Perlage – their Cabernet is still available in the Finnish ‘Alko’ monopoly retailer as a result, and I think stil one of the organic best-sellers there.

In 1996 I was involved in a marketing project for organic-biodynamic food and had arranged a small booth for organic products from Finland. That is where the story of the world’s first organic liquorice started although the manufacturer Makulaku wasn’t aware of it before I introduced the idea to them half a year later. In 1997 the Nordic countries were the region of the year at BioFach and saw the biggest ever number of companies from Finland exhibiting at BioFach. After that I arranged the Makulaku stands until we started with joint Finland stand in 2004.

So this is the 12th time at BioFach and 11th time we have a stand at Biofach in one form or another. This year six companies participate at the Finland joint stand – five of them also members of Organic Food Finland Export Group. Helsinki Mills and Finnamyl have participated at the joint stand since 2004. For Kiantama, Maustaja and Virgino this is the first time. Also this is the time when we are introducing the NAPAPIIRI Organics range: six sugar-free preserves based on Nordic berries and 2 flavored hot cereal products. So far the response to the jams has been quite positive – we sent samples to some of our contacts as invitations to our stand – so we’ll see what BioFach brings along and if we can report some real business.

It seems that for me personally I see less and less of BioFach and am busier and busier at the stand. Even now my calendar is pretty full with meetings every hour or half-an-hour. We’ll see how that works with everyone rushing around more or less late. And then there are all the people who I should meet who don’t have an appointment. Lhassan, who is working at Organic Food Finland as Key Account Manager since last April will be busy on the stand.

Anyway I’ll see you there!