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Bilberries and lingonberries could become international success stories

Finnish berries can achieve international success. The Berries and Health seminar organised by Kuopio Innovation Oy, Sitra and the Food Development’s competence cluster introduced several new possibilities for berries.

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Finnish berries can achieve international success. This will require close cooperation and additional resources in order to guarantee the health claims made on their behalf. It will also be important to ensure the availability of raw materials and learn to prepare and implement marketing strategies more efficiently. The Berries and Health seminar organised by Kuopio Innovation Oy, Sitra and the Food Development’s competence cluster in Helsinki on 2 April introduced several new possibilities for berries.

The export of Finnish berries is steadily rising. Interest in berries will increase as a result of the latest research into their numerous health effects. ”Pure bilberries, lingonberries and crowberries provided by reliable Finnish sources are currently very popular among health conscious Japanese. The biggest challenge in the future will be to pick the berries from the forest, that is, to secure a sufficient supply of raw materials,” says Simo Moisio, Executive Director of the Arctic Flavours Association. He regards the health claims associated with berries as a major opportunity in the near future.

Our annual berry crop amounts to nearly 550 million kilograms, the majority of which consists of natural berries. Only about ten per cent, or 50 million kilograms, of all forest berries are currently stored. ”We are delighted to have been able to double the recovery of bilberries in the last three years thanks to foreign pickers,” says Moisio.

Currently, Finland exports bilberries and lingonberries the most (about 4 million kilograms of each annually), mainly as frozen products. Berries are also imported into Finland as industrial raw material. Strawberries are imported the most, 3.5–6 million kilograms a year.

Sitra’s Berry cluster and Kuopio’s Berries and Health project to support the berry industry

Sitra’s Food and Nutrition Programme ERA has been bringing together Finnish berry experts since 2006. Research data collected about the health effects of berries will be utilised in the newly begun Berries and Health project, the objective of which will be to make research data available to companies within the industry. The project will be led by Marja-Leena Laitinen, Project Manager at Kuopio Innovation Oy.

”The berry cluster of Sitra’s ERA programme and the Berries and Health project of Kuopio Innovation Oy aim to export an even larger portion of our berries as health products with a profitable margin,” says Liisa Rosi, Development Director heading the Berry cluster at Sitra. She sees that our high degree of berry expertise creates a solid foundation for developing and selling delicious and healthy berry products. Domestic and imported berries can be used as raw materials for added value products.

Health claims for lingonberries

Vernu Vasunta, Managing Director of Kiantama Oy, has faith in the lingonberry as long as its health effect, similar to cranberries, preventing urinary infections can be proved scientifically. ”We are waiting for the results,” says Vasunta. The world has a shortage of cranberries that can be replaced by lingonberries.

”Cooperation similar to research operations should also be implemented in sales, meaning that we need to create efficient marketing clusters,” says Vasunta.

Kiantama Oy’s customers include food and natural product industries. Half of the company’s production is exported. Vasunta’s faith in berries is partly based on the success of the Finnish cosmetics industry. “While berries add Nordic brightness to the skin, we also need to produce added value for our edible berries as sources of versatile well-being and health,” says Vasunta.

Essi Sarkkinen, Managing Director of Foofiles Ltd, Kuopio, among others, believes that, within a few years, it will be possible, to obtain clinical evidence of the health benefits of lingonberries that have already been proved for cranberries. In addition to reducing the risk of urinary infections, the list of beneficial effects belonging to lingonberries is long. Lingonberries have a low level of energy and fats, plenty of fibre, they do not contain saturated fat or sodium, and they are a natural source of vitamin E and are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. A diet containing plenty of polyphenols has been proved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Could bilberry become a “superfruit”?

Patricia Wiklund, Managing Director of Invenire Market Intelligence Oy, has studied the international marketing possibilities of berries. She believes that Finnish bilberries have the potential to become ”superfruits”. Superfruit is a marketing term originating from the United States. Superfruit means a less-known exotic fruit or berry that is of high nutritional quality, rich in antioxidants, easy to use and brings variety to the world of flavours. The availability of a product aiming to become a superfruit must be guaranteed.

The health effects of bilberries require additional research in order to get those health claims ”We already know that bilberries contain plenty of substances that, most likely, are good for aging eyes and for eyes that have been strained, for example, by working in front of a screen. Animal testing has also produced promising evidence concerning bilberries in helping memory problems. This means that it could provide help for Alzheimer’s disease,” says Riitta Törrönen, senior scientist berries researcher at the University of Kuopio.

Bilberry can become a superfruit similar to the American blueberry. ”The taste of bilberry products is widely acceptable in the world. The biggest challenge is to create bilberry products that, despite the strong colour of the berry, will not be too messy. We also need to control the full delivery chain so that the continuous availability of the product can be guaranteed,” says Wiklund. She believes good marketing can turn our Finnish bilberry into a superfruit with established health effects and profitable margins that sells all over the world.

Further information

Marja-Leena Laitinen, Project Manager, Kuopio Innovation Oy, tel. +358 17 441 2646, +358 45 657 9569, firstname.lastname@kuopioinnovation.fi
Liisa Rosi, Development Manager, Sitra, tel. +358 09 6189 9262, +358 40 507 6041, firstname.lastname@sitra.fi
Essi Sarkkinen, Managing Director, Foodfiles Oy, tel. +358 17 2881261, firstname.lastname@foodfiles.com
Riitta Törrönen, Special Researcher, University of Kuopio, tel. +358 17 163 565, firstname.lastname@uku.fi
Vernu Vasunta, Managing Director, Kiantama Oy, tel. +358 400 68199, firstname.lastname@kiantama.fi
Patricia Wiklund, Managing Director, Invenire Market Intelligence Oy, tel. +358 40 8228848, firstname.lastname@invenire.fi
Simo Moisio, Executive Director, Arctic Flavours Association, tel. +358 8 61555590, +358 40-5801186, firstname.lastname@arctic-flavours.fi

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