We believe that Estonia has the world’s greatest bread, sour cream, smoked sausage and many other food items that are more delicious here than anywhere else. Do the Finns know? Do they agree with us? How many Estonian food items do Finns want to eat – if any at all? Do Finns still prefer to eat meat or is veganism gaining popularity? Is Finland the appropriate foreign market for Estonian food producers?
The Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutti, along with members of the Estonian food producers’ delegation, got answers to these questions as well as many others during a recent visit to Finland. Enterprise Estonia’s foreign representatives filled their busy day with a destination market seminar and meetings with “The Three Kings” of Finland’s retail chains – the heads of the S Group, the K Group and Lidl.
They went straight to the source for answers and the their questions were answered by people who have responsibilities larger than Estonia’s entire state budget. In 2020, the retail trade market share of the three kings was 92.4% and turnover was more than 18.7 billion euros (for comparison, Estonia’s entire state budget in 2020 was 11.6 billion euros). How much have Estonian food producers contributed to their turnover?
Before looking more closely at Finnish food items import numbers, it would be wise to take a glance at the entire Finnish food market. Retail trade is currently booming. However, Finland’s food industry turnover has fallen by 3.6% on average. The given reasons for this decrease are people working remotely as well as restrictions affecting the tourism sector. Therefore, in order to help the food industry recover, the main assistance has to first go to the hospitality and tourism sector.
Finns also favour domestic goods
In the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of the “nationalist capital” of food items was quite evident. Stores did not run out of food items or basic necessities in the beginning of the crisis, panicked citizens weren’t even able to buy out all of the toilet paper from stores. Finnish people prefer to reach for domestic products on store shelves first and foremost (or products that look domestic at first glance). If there are two different kinds of tomatoes on the shelf, there is a greater chance that the domestic one will be chosen, even if it’s a little more expensive. About 80% of food products sold in Finnish retail are domestic, and this is primarily due to consumer preferences.
Finland’s food product imports are 12.8% from the Netherlands, 11.9% from Germany and 10.5% from their neighbours Sweden. Estonia is in 10th place with 3.3% of the imports. In 2020, total import volume of Finland’s food items was 4.7 billion euros.
What countries do Finns import food items for?
Finland’s customs records indicate that the largest share of imports are fruit (8.3%), alcohol (6.3%) and unclassified goods (6.6%). 4th and 5th largest are raw fish (6.2%) and cheese products (5.6%). Source: Elintarviketeollisuusliitto (ETL)
What do Finns import?
Lidl’s purchasing managers say that Finland is often the pioneer of food trends in Europe. Just a few years back, high protein foods were very popular, but now retail buyers believe that the future is in:
- organic and sustainably produced products;
- products that increase people’s wellbeing;
- vegan products;
- “Free From” products, essentially products that have no sugar, fat, preservatives, gluten etc;
- things like vegan dairy products, which are already affecting the sales of regular dairy products.
Complex logistics requires detailed planning
Estonian food producers have said that beginning a collaboration with Finnish retail chains is often quite challenging and requires a disproportionate amount of preparatory work. In addition to Finns’ tendency to very carefully plan things out before implementation, we also have to account for factors like the S Group’s new logistics centre in Sipoo that is automated to such an extent that only 15% of the work is done manually. The logistics centre located in Sipoo is the largest building in Finland (and among the ten largest buildings in the entire world!), with an area of 200,000 square metres. The geothermal wells alone, built for heating the building, take up 95 kilometres. If the trucks that pass through the centre every day were lined up one after the other, the line would be more than 30 kilometres long. A lot of detailed preparatory work must be done before taking products in to a centre like this and then sending the products out to shops without any complications. If just one of the agreed upon components changes, it can cause disruptions in the entire chain. Thankfully, all three companies have clearly explained their requirements for suppliers and suppliers’ products on their websites. It would be wise to take some time and look over all of these requirements attentively before contacting a retail chain.
The purchasing managers of all three companies are trying to find new products to add to their familiar and safe domestic products range. They are searching for partners in this field specifically. Great opportunities for collaboration are born when innovation and future trends meet.
For additional information on Finland’s food industry and business opportunities in the Finnish market overall, feel free to contact us:
Enterprise Estonia export advisor
Phone: +358 50 37 55 620
Enterprise Estonia export advisor
Phone: +358 44 766 6420