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Text by Tim Bird and photos by Arctic Power Berries and Tim Bird.
Finns have always known about the wholesome properties of the natural foods on their doorsteps. The expeditions into the forest to forage for berries and mushrooms, packed with nutrition concentrated by the short but light-filled Nordic growing season, are long established highlights of the lakeside summer cottage sojourn. As long as you’re not trespassing, these goodies are available for everyone. Since it’s estimated that only a tiny percentage of the berries that grow in Finnish forests are ever actually collected, the store of natural foods is virtually limitless.
The successful conversion of these foods to packaged products without sacrificing their intrinsic values of nutrition and flavour means that you can enjoy them anywhere and at any time. This was a primary aim of Jari Kurtti, the founder, CEO and “Flavour Master” of Arctic Forest Foods Oy when he moved to Levi in Finnish Lapland with his hotel-manager wife in December 2014.
“I had plenty of knowledge about the potential of ingredients,” says Kurtti, who boasts a prestigious 15-year CV as a chef including Chaine des Rôtisseurs recognition and a spell at the Michelin star-rated G.W. Sundmans restaurant in Helsinki. “When we got to Levi, I thought about what to do next and I wanted to do something new. In September 2015 it occurred to me that we live almost in the middle of the forest, breathing the world’s clearest air,” he says.
His self-set challenge to develop a product 100 per cent comprised of natural Finnish ingredients culminated in 2015 with the first in a series of snack bars.
“Nothing similar was on the market at that time,” he says. “I wanted to combine different ingredients in new ways. With the launch of Arctic Super Foods as a brand, I wanted all the ingredients to be genuine super foods. The feedback has been very positive and people seem to like the flavours.”
At present the brand includes three snack bars. The Wild Blueberry & Birch Leaf variety is now available for purchase on all Finnair flights in the Sky Bistro menu, and has been joined by Sea Buckthorn & Spruce Sprout and Lingonberry, Cranberry, & Nettle bars.
The products, insists Kurtti, are uniquely natural, gluten-free, milk-free, and without added sugar. Each 30-gram bar contains about 130 calories, approximately the same number as a banana, and 60 berries are packed into the Blueberry & Birch Leaf bars. “It’s not a protein bar. It’s clean energy, healthy and great tasting, ideal for a coffee break, a cycling trip, a trail food snack – something to snack on instead of chocolate,” he says.
No passing fad
Arctic Super Foods bars are currently retailed at more than 180 outlets across Finland, from Helsinki in the south to Kilpisjärvi in the far north, and interest is growing from abroad.
“Wellness experiences connected with nature are very popular right now but I believe this trend will last and that people everywhere will value these benefits in the longer term,” he says. “In Asia, Arctic food is getting a lot of attention. But first I’m concentrating on the Finnish market. In China the scale is huge so you need to make sure you have a solid base before venturing into it.”
Jari Kurtti isn’t the only entrepreneur to have recognised the potential of natural Finnish super foods and the brand is operating in the face of increasing Finnish competition. Love Arctic’s Organic Nettle Tea and Organic Roasted Ground Milled Flaxseed & Lingonberry, for example, and Roberts Berrie’s juices, both from Finland, are also making their cases to be present at your healthy dining table.
In the meantime, London-based Anna Ojutkangas and Eve Suoyrjö, childhood friends from Lapland and the combined driving force behind Arctic Power Berries, have proved the international demand for these products.
“We never thought about working in the food industry or running our own business,” says Ojutkangas. “At the time the idea popped into our heads, Eve was studying fashion marketing, hoping to make it ‘big’ in the fashion world, and I was studying sports therapy. One evening the idea came to our minds, and we called it a ‘light bulb moment,’” she recalls. As the two discussed how Finnish nature is full of amazing products that have not been branded or exported outside Finland, they saw an opportunity.
“Eve had just arrived from a trip home and she had berry powders sitting on top of her suitcase. We always brought them back for ourselves from Finland, because the berries in the supermarkets in London don’t compare to the berries we’re used to eating back home. Eve grabbed one of those berry powder bags – ‘Like these! – and we looked at each other with crazy determination. Let’s do it!” says Ojutkangas.
Power to the powder
The powders in question are made from dry blackcurrant, blueberry, lingonberry, and cranberry, with up to 700 grams of fresh berries dried and ground down to just 70 grams in each tub. That’s equivalent to a handful of berries to zest up your porridge, smoothie, yoghurt, or baking. The products are sold in some of the top stores in the UK retail business, from Harrods and Selfridges to Waitrose and Whole Foods Market.
“We happened to start the business at a good time, when people were getting into health and really paying attention to what they eat,” says Suoyrjö. “Many foods started appearing in a powdered form, so at least we didn’t need to be the first to tell people why they should eat powdered foods.” Nevertheless, she admits it’s been difficult at times. “We have to do a lot of explaining about why and how to use our products. Luckily the feedback is mostly positive and very supportive,” she says.
Finns may be more conservative than Brits but they are more understanding about the virtues of natural forest foods. “That’s something we need to explain to the English a bit – to make clear that the berries from wild Arctic nature are actually a lot better than those cultivated berries from Chile! We are also proud to say our air-dried products are 100 per cent pure and fully raw, so they are suitable and handy for many diets that are getting more popular, for vegans and vegetarians, or those following FODMAP and Paleo diets,” she says.
Arctic Super Foods and Arctic Power Berries are planning new products. Both are keeping their plans under wraps for now, but Suoyrjö hints at “a completely new eating occasion for Nordic berries.” Be prepared for more tasty surprises emanating from the forests of the north.
Blueberries have been central elements of the diet for Nordic and North American natives for centuries.
- Blueberries can be frozen without significantly reducing their nutritional value.
- Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and K, manganese and fibre, and low in calories.
- Studies have suggested that blueberries benefit blood sugar balance, eye health, and cognitive functions.
This article was first published in the February 2017 issue of Finnair’s in-flight magazine Blue Wings.