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Conquering the world with top expertise and healthy products


The Finnish food industry has become a notable player in the Baltic Sea region. However, apart from a few success stories, it has yet to conquer global markets, but confidence in the demand for Finnish special products and know-how is strong. The plans of the players involved in Sitra’s Food and Nutrition Programme, ERA, to establish a Strategic Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation in the field have taken a step forward.

Anu Harkki, Executive Director of the ERA Programme, who spoke at the Finnish Food Congress on 3 May, said that the strategy for the field launched a year earlier and the mission of making Finland a forerunner in healthy nutrition have proceeded to the practical stage.

– We have implemented various forms of cooperation to strengthen the SME sector and to create concept-supporting health promotion. We are working closely together to improve the international competitive edge of the food industry and have made significant progress in planning for the Strategic Centre. All our endeavours aim at improving the competitiveness of the field by investing not only in the tastiness of food but also in its health benefits.

Towards a Strategic Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation

The Strategic Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation concept is a new way of focusing the currently fairly uncoordinated research resources in Finland on targets that are significant for enterprises as well as society. The Science and Technology Policy Council of Finland has identified the focus areas for the first-stage Strategic Centres. The food and nutrition field is keen to be placed on the list of Strategic Centres; for example, the forest cluster is already launching Strategic Centre activities.

– First we, in conjunction with the potential partners, defined the key areas upon which research should focus. Currently, we are undergoing thorough discussions on how the Strategic Centre would best serve its future partners. This will form the basis for the forthcoming Letter of Intent, says Harkki of the progress of the preparations.

– Healthy nutrition, functional products and smart food that add to well-being are common interests of all involved, said the team of food and nutrition field players, which is headed by Professor Juha Ahvenainen and the task of which is to outline the R&D policies. Also, the commercialisation challenges have now been gauged and the first policy decisions have been made by the Commercialisation Team headed by Bertel Paulig, Chairman of the Board, Paulig Group. The outlined policies were compiled into a report entitled Suomi – terveellisen ravitsemuksen huippuosaaja (Finland – top know-how in healthy nutrition), which was introduced at the Finnish Food Congress.

Creative cooperation

Esko Aho, the President of Sitra, spoke to representatives of the food and nutrition industry at a conference on the field at the end of April and encouraged them to seek and invest in achieving the establishment of a Strategic Centre for the field. He thinks it would be paramount for the development and commercialisation of the industry.

– The Strategic Centre would gather together those creating new knowledge and the entire chain, including the consumer. We must learn to think along a model in which the consumer is at the beginning of the value chain, not the end, which is the conventional way, says Aho.

He also finds that for an innovative model that combines various fields of expertise, the framework provided by a small country such as Finland can only be viewed as an advantage.
– A population of five million makes for a small country, but it is an ideal size as a platform for developing and commercialising innovative solutions.

Aho calls for acknowledging the importance of embracing change, creative cooperation models and mobility of expertise.

Benefits and challenges

The Strategic Centre will increase and consolidate know-how. It will provide the opportunity to create market scenarios that are of interest to all partners and to a new kind of multidisciplinarity. Areas that have received the Strategic Centre status can also benefit from public investments and bring better opportunities for the entire field to develop products with genuine added value.

– We can serve the neighbouring markets through the development of healthy basic foods and functional foods, and special products and technological breakthroughs would help us also conquer global markets. The scope of our neighbouring markets has already expanded from the five million consumers in the domestic market to the Baltic Sea region with 50 million consumers. A successful launch of special products could open the door to markets of 500-million consumers, Harkki envisions.

Tiina Mattila-Sandholm, Senior Vice-President, R&D, Valio, sees that the successful alliance of research and industry is a great opportunity for the field. Finland excels in technology, and multidisciplinary breakthroughs achieved in collaboration with pharmaceutical and packaging industries will bring further added value. Speaking at the joint planning conference, she also stressed the fierceness of international business.

– There is no point in going global until one has something protected, that is, something with clear added value, to sell. When entering international markets, we have to be able to seek the right research and retail partners and learn from the experiences of similar strategic centres in other countries. Mistakes happen so that they can be learnt from, and Finland has made its fair share of them and thanks to them has lost its unnecessary naivety, she said.

Gaining the status of the Strategic Centre is the goal for 2007. Sitra’s ERA Programme is now working to gather together the right combination of partners. Letters of Intent will be negotiated with them by autumn 2007.

Further information

Anu Harkki
Executive Director, Sitra Food and Nutrition Programme, ERA
Tel. + 358 9 6189 9458 or +358 50 431 1651 »

Juha Ahvenainen
Professor, VTT
Tel. +358 400 878 380

Publication details

Elintarvike- ja ravitsemusalan tutkimus-, kehitys- ja kaupallistamistrategia: Suomi – kilpailukykyinen terveellisen ravitsemuksen huippuosaaja
Sitra: Helsinki, 2007
ISBN 978-951-563-594-5 (paperback)
ISBN 978-951-563-595-2 (URL:

Download pdf »

You can also order the report from Sitra, tel. +358 9 618 991, email