Nordic Organic Food Fair

Welcome to our second Q&A Interview series in the run up to Eco Life Scandinavia and the Nordic Organic Food Fair which return on 17-18 November 2021.  we’ll be speaking to some of the biggest names in the natural health, beauty, sustainable living and the organic food and drink world. You’ll find out how they adapt to the current climate, their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead. Plus, what they are doing to support their teams and local communities.

We’re delighted to talk to Laura Ihanainen, Development Manager, Kesko.

 


Laura has always been interested in sustainable development and her personal journey with sustainability started in 2010 when she started her doctoral studies in food sciences. Laura also holds a Master of Science in Agriculture and Forestry. Plus, Laura has worked as a part time lecturer in Turku University of Applied Sciences teaching ecological nutrition to undergraduate students of Sustainable developments. 


Can you tell us a little about the history of Kesko?
Kesko is a Finnish trading sector pioneer. We operate in the grocery trade, the building and technical trade and the car trade. K Group is the biggest trading sector operator in Finland and one of the biggest in Northern Europe.

Kesko was formed when four regional wholesaling companies that had been founded by retailers were merged in October 1940. The new Kesko company started operating at the beginning of 1941. The need to purchase goods for the shareholder-retailers and to support their business operations and start cooperation among them resulted in the forming of the K-retailer group. The active building of the K-store network was started and joint advertising was launched. The K-emblem was introduced as the new group’s symbol. .

How did you get into sustainability?
We at K Group have always believed in the power of sustainability and have been working towards it for decades. K Group’s journey to one of world’s most sustainable companies started in 1982 with Kesko’s energy guide. For example, BSCI auditing started in 2005, responsibility programme started in 2008 and Science Based Targets for emissions were launched in 2017. Throughout the years K Group has responded to the needs of a changing world and the wishes of its customers. In 2020 Kesko has been ranked as the most sustainable grocery trade company in the world for the seventh year in a row in the Global 100 list. Kesko is the only Finnish company to be included in the list every year since it was established in 2005. Sustainability and combatting climate change are key strategic focus areas for Kesko.

And my story, I have always been interested in sustainable development and my personal journey with sustainability has started in 2010 when I started my doctoral studies in food sciences. In 2011-2013 I worked as a project manager in Turku University leading the local food chain development project and a survey of ecological impacts in local food chains. Also, in 2011 and 2013 I worked as a part time lecturer in Turku University of Applied Sciences teaching ecological nutrition to undergraduate students of Sustainable developments. In years between 2014 and 2020 I was in software business and end of the year 2020 I started as a development manager in K-group Grocery trade’s sustainability team. I had my academic dissertation in August 2020 and the subject was sustainable food chains.
My educational background is Doctor of Science (Food Science), Ph.D, Marketing and Master of Science in Agriculture and Forestry, Marketing.

What role do you think organic play when it comes to sustainability?
Crop rotation and sustainable farming methods and practices are the strengths of organic agriculture. Organic farming is sustainable alternative when it comes to food production, since it doesn’t include the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and it supports biodiversity. Also, the ethical aspects of food have become more and more important to Finns. Animal welfare requirements are important part of organic standards and often exceed the EU regulations.

At K Group, we want to enable our customers a more sustainable lifestyle in terms of food, clothing, mobility and living. We are constantly working to promote sustainability in our supply chain and to help our customers make more sustainable choices. We have defined sustainable products as those which have a significantly smaller climate impact than comparable products or which are important for adapting to climate change and biodiversity. Products with sustainability certification and labelling, such as organic products, are one category in sustainable products.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities facing the organic retail sector?
Finns’ appetite for organic foods has grown. Organic food is often viewed as healthier, cleaner, safer and more ethical. The rising popularity of organic products has been obvious for a long time at K-food stores, where the sales of organic foods have increased throughout the decade. Last year the sales of organic food increased 13 %. We have responded to this growing demand and made organic food available to more consumers by adding new organic products to the Pirkka range (our own brand).

And what do you think are the biggest challenges?
In large product categories like meat and processed meat, beer and beverages and bread category the share of organic sales in relatively low. The number of organic products in these categories is low even though the demand could be higher. For example the demand of broiler products has been growing and the supply of organic broiler is really low. The supply of organic products in many categories could be higher. The importance of domestic and local food has increased, which is why there is a high demand especially for organic products that are produced in Finland in certain product categories.

What role do you as a retailer play in developing the organic sector?
There has been a positive trend in the sales of organic products. We have responded to this growing demand and made organic food available to more consumers by adding new organic products to the Pirkka range (our own brand). We have also made it easier for organic producers to have their products included in K-food stores’ selections. K-food store retailers themselves compose the selections of their stores while listening to their customers’ wishes. Local and small producers’ products valued by customers are chosen for the selections.

With sales of organic exceeding €400 million in Finland last year alone, what do you think can be done to further educate Finnish consumers about the importance of moving to organic?
We want to provide a wide range of organic products and ensure that organic products are available to more consumers. In addition, it is important to share information about the positive impacts of organic production for example concerning biodiversity and positive effects of crop rotation and sustainable methods and practices. Co-operation between organic sector actors is also crucial.

How do you see the evolution of your business after COVID?
Buying food online has become a global phenomenon and a trend that is here to stay. For example, the work lunch as we know it has changed over the past year and high-quality restaurant level takeaway food has become a strong trend.

What do you think the impact of the COVID pandemic will be on the future of organic and sustainable consumption?
According to various studies COVID pandemic has increased the importance of local, sustainable and healthy food, and people are willing to purchase these products even though they would cost more. The rising popularity of domestic and local products has also been obvious in K-food stores during COVID pandemic.

COVID pandemic has also been a time of awakening which has forced to look at ones own health choices even more holistically. Health trend has become increasingly important. Food is one of the main pilar in healthy choices but sleeping, excercise and mental wellbeing are also important.

When health is questioned, it must also be rethought in a new way. Organic is perceived as a healthy and safe choice. My dissertation highlighted that mothers in particular want to buy organic food for their children and the reason they mentioned was its safety. There will be even more demand for responsible choices in the coming years.

Have you noticed any new consumer trends developing during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The importance of domestic and local food has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Finnish food producers play a key role in K Group’s grocery trade. We want to promote the success of Finnish small food producers and accelerate the journey of local products to store shelves. During the Covid-19 pandemic, supporting small food producers have been considered to be even more important.

Do you have any exciting plans or news that you can tell us about?
K Group aims to be carbon neutral in 2025. We will systematically reduce emissions so that our own operations and transports are emission-free by 2030. In between 2025 and 2030, we will offset our remaining emissions. Our objective is to eventually have no need for offsets and make our own operations emission-free by 2030.

We will strengthen our biodiversity work. Our goal is to prevent nature loss in our own operations and our value chain. The starting point is to act in a sustainable fashion for the good of biodiversity and enable a sustainable lifestyle for our customers in their daily life in food, housing and mobility. We have also started K Food waste roadmap work in order to find the best ways to minimize food waste through the food chain.

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Nordic Organic Food Fair