“Finland is one of the biggest producers of high-quality food-grade oats globally, which is one reason why our focus on oats is a natural choice. The gluten-free trend keeps going strong, and oats as a gluten-free grain fit also that perfectly. However, getting the oats absolutely pure and free from other grains all the way from the seed and farming through to the table is far more complicated than it sounds. We have worked four years on this issue, and we now have the solutions in place for making gluten-free oat products.”
One of the leading companies of grain processing industry in Finland, Helsinki Mills is also known as Finland’s largest processor of organic grains. Using environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and recyclable system in all production units, Helsinki Mills has recently invested seriously in oats, planning to increase its exports of oat products. Miska Kuusela, the CEO of Helsinki Mills, answered the questions of our magazine, stating that they export oat products to more than 30 countries worldwide. Kuusela further said: “Over the past 4 years, we have invested heavily in oat milling, since that’s where the growth opportunities seem to be. Our future growth will come from exports and oats”.
Mr. Kuusela, your company Helsinki Mills Ltd is one of the leading flour mills of Finland. Firstly, could you give some information on your company and how you have come to today?
Helsinki Mills is a milling company owned by the Puhk family. The family’s roots are in Estonia, where they founded their first mill in the 17th century. Helsinki Mills is a significant processor of Finnish grains. The company develops, markets and sells various grain-based products for consumers, industrial customers, bakeries and other food industry. The company’s core raw material is locally grown Finnish grain, which is processed into different kind of baking and breakfast products.
Sustainability is one of the company values. Environmentally-friendly way to produce is at Helsinki Mills everyday life e.g. – all production facilities are using non-fossil energy sources, including in-house biofuels such as milling side products. Regarding packaging materials used at Helsinki Mills, the environmental aspects are taken into consideration carefully. Helsinki Mills specializes in organic products and is today Finland’s largest processor of organic grains. Pure raw materials, solid milling expertise, and state-of-the-art technology guarantee high-quality products. Helsinki Mills is also known outside Finland’s borders. It exports especially various oats products to over 30 countries worldwide – Asia, Europe and the United States.
What can you say about your product variety and the position of your company in Finnish market? Which properties of your company distinguish you from your rivals?
Our product portfolio contains different type of grain products - organic, conventional, gluten-free –such as flour, baking mixes, cereals, porridge, muesli and breakfast cereals made for consumers, industrial customers, bakeries and industry. There are five major millers in Finland, we’re one of them. We are the only Finnish company making extruded breakfast cereals for home market and for export.
Could you give information on your facility, capacity and technologies you used? What can you say about the level of your company in capacity and technology usage?
We currently have three production facilities. The four mill is located near Helsinki – originally it was in Helsinki, thus the company name. The oat mille is further north, where the main oat farming lands reside. Close to the oat mill is also the breakfast cereal and muesli plant. Until last year we had yet another facility in Estonia, but we sold that.
In total, we mill about 100,000 tons annually, wheat, rye, oat and barley combined. By volume, wheat is the biggest, then oats, rye and barley. Over the past 4 years, we have invested heavily in oat milling, since that’s where the growth opportunities seem to be.
Are there any other fields you give service besides flour production?
We can say that we produce breakfast cereals, muesli, and hot cereals in addition to flour.
Are you working only for the Finnish market in the flour milling industry? Are there any export activities or do you have any goals for export?
No, we are not working only for the Finnish market. We are exporting over 30 countries different kind of cereal products, mainly oat-based.
As Helsinki Mills Ltd., what is your future goal for the investment and market objective?
We want to build our brands in Finland, and expand the visibility and recognition of our offering abroad. As said, future growth comes from exports and oats.
Could you give some information also on the flour industry in your country and the consumption habits of your people? What is the position of Finland in the world in terms of using milling technologies, flour production amount, quality and consumption?
In wheat, Finnish mills mill predominantly domestic wheat. In European or global scale, Finnish wheat volumes are very small. Nordic countries are big fans of rye bread, therefore rye milling makes up a major share of the Finnish flour milling volumes. Porridges are traditionally, and now again, very popular. Oat is the main ingredient for porridges, but also e.g. rolled rye and barley are used. Also oat breads are becoming increasingly popular.
Finland is one of the biggest producers of high-quality food-grade oats globally, which is one reason why our focus on oats is a natural choice. The gluten-free trend keeps going strong, and oats as a gluten-free grain fit also that perfectly. However, getting the oats absolutely pure and free from other grains all the way from the seed and farming through to the table is far more complicated than it sounds. We have worked four years on this issue, and we now have the solutions in place for making gluten-free oat products.
What do you think about the future development of your country especially in terms of flour industry?
The flour industry is, volume-wise, very much driven by the bakery industry. The bakery industry in Finland is facing tough times due to many reasons, e.g. the consumers’ aversion to wheat and gluten, the low-carb trend, and increasing imports of frozen bread. However, whole grain and especially oats are making their way back into diets, which means opportunities for bakers, if they can seize the opportunity with the right bakery solutions.
But let’s face it; today the traditional flour industry is quite stagnant and does not seem to improve significantly in the foreseeable future. Also the milling industry needs to look for opportunities beyond its traditional markets, offerings, solutions and technologies.