Food for thought: Asia and Germany help boost Finnish food exports by €100 million

Finnish food is becoming more popular in different parts of the world, where it's no longer a rarity to find favourites from home on supermarket shelves or on the menu.

Customers at Finnish Jymy Ice Cream Cafe in Tokyo / Credit: Suomisen Maito

Exports of food and drinks from Finland are set to top €1.75 billion this year, as retailers and consumers around the world get a taste for Finnish products.

The projected figure is a 14% increase on 2018, a whopping €100 million boost in just a year.

A decade ago it would have been a challenge to find Finnish goods on supermarket shelves, outside of airport tax free shopping malls where Fazer or Finlandia were well-known brands.

These days it’s not unusual to find Finnish pork in Hong Kong or Japan – where it’s prized for supply chain integrity and disease-free farming; or berry powders in South Korea; craft beer in England; oats in South Africa and hundreds of products for sale in a number of different German supermarket chains.

“What is very positive is that all our target markets are growing, all the markets we have been focusing on during the last few years” says Esa Wrang, Director of Business Finland’s Food from Finland programme.

“The biggest growth is coming from China, up more than 50% this year; also Germany up 48% this year and some other positive countries like Japan growing 23%, and Denmark growing 17%. Sweden is our biggest market and even it is growing by 12% so we are gaining growth” Wrang explains.

Even food and drinks exports to Russia, which were hit hard by EU sanctions after the invasion of Crimea in 2014, have recovered. Although individual companies might not have made up the lost business, overall Finnish food and drinks exporters have exceeded pre-sanctions numbers.

“We are exporting this year more than we have ever exported to Russia, and we have fully compensated the deficit coming from the sanctions” says Esa Wrang.

Jymy Ice Cream Cafe in Tokyo / Credit: Suomisen Maito

Exporting ice cream – Jymy’s success story

One of Finland’s most popular ice cream brands in the last few years, Jymy is now wildly popular in Germany in particular.

The brand is now carried in 300 stores of Germany’s biggest organic wholesaler – which also has another 30 shops in Austria – and more than a thousand other shops and retail clients who use the products.

“In Germany we are more visible and available than any other food item from Finland, ever!” exclaims Horst Neumann, the CEO of Suomisen Maito the company that makes Jymy.

In the last few years the brand has also developed something of a cult following in Japan, where a Jymy Ice Cream cafe sells the equivalent of a 40-foot container of ice cream every year.

“In Japan, Finland has a very very sweet moment right now so everything that is Finnish is interesting” says Neumann.

“In Germany it’s different, they need another kind of convincing because just being organic or just being from Finland is not enough of a selling point. They need the brand’s story there, everything must be combined to have as big an impact as possible” he adds.

Helsinki Distilling Company pink grapefruit long drink in bottles / Credit: HDC

Premium long drink is big in Asia – and Holland

At the Helsinki Distilling Company, they’re in awe of the distribution systems in place Shanghai – a huge market for the premium spirits distillers.

Their importer in Shanghai takes orders via the WeChat Chinese messaging service, and in the two months it takes their premium pink grapefruit long drink to sail from Finland to China, the entire shipment is already sold.

“In the Asian market let’s say it like this: this product is great and once we get the people to taste the product they like it, but you have to get them to taste it and that’s a challenge” says Séamus Holohan one of the founders of the distillery.

“What they like is Finnish design, the simple design and the idea of the word Helsinki as a place is synonymous with quality. You get the purity, quality and dependability in this Helsinki brand” he explains.

The past year has also seen a big growth in exports to the Netherlands. The company went on a roadshow visiting 214 bars and restaurants together with their local importer and while of course people liked the product there was another reason the long drink has been a big hit in Holland.

“They like the drink because it’s Nordic. It’s good. A little exotic” says Holohan.

“But in Holland they also like it because of its orange colour. I never thought of that before!”