Four years ago, a group of girlfriends had a dream; to bring the world’s cleanest wild food to its well deserved place at the dining table and make it a part of every day lives of Finns while getting people excited about our backyard nature. This dream was quickly put into action with Helsinki Wildfoods' wild herb foraging courses and the company’s first natural food products.
Challenges and obstacles that small food businesses face have become clear on this path towards the ambitious dream. Without own production, selling food products as a sustainable and viable business would mean focusing on larger international markets where customers are willing to pay the premium needed to produce the highest quality natural food products from, and in, Finland.
About one year ago, the idea of focusing on the Japanese market became a strategic direction as positive feedback and interest was attained from Japanese buyers with the help of Business Finland’s Food from Finland program. Japanese delegates were given a chance to try Nettle Pesto, Mushroom Sauce and Lingonberry Xylitol, which all received positive feedback driving the a bigger strategic shift in the small company, now aiming for export. So began the process of finding and securing the needed financial and human resources to carry out the new strategy.
METTÄ - flavours from Nordic forests
About six months ago, the export focused, trademark-ready brand METTÄ - flavours from Nordic forests was born. METTÄ s a brand that embodies the ambitious dream of of the founders, to share the pure, clean and delicious flavours from our Nordic nature in a sustainable manner. METTÄ takes you on a culinary adventure into the Nordic forest and offers flavours from berries, herbs and mushrooms sustainably packaged creating a wholesome experience of Nordic forest magic.
After many positive signals and encouragement, Japan was selected as the first target market. Finland already has a mark and is know in Japan for having the cleanest food, beautiful design and high quality products. Finnish nature and the Finnish Metsä is also greatly appreciated and adored.
After a year of sales efforts in Japan, collaboration with an importer has successfully began. METTÄ has gained a small, but significant and important visibility in Japan. In May and June, METTÄ was featured at two large department store Nordic Events and received a warm welcome and much positive feedback. The Berry Xylitol products were a particular hit with customers who enjoy using it in their teas. Since then, METTÄ products have been available at Metsä Village situated right next to Moomin Valley Park, near Tokyo. Metsä Village sales will provide important feedback and lessons driving further product innovation.
Try, fail and learn
Building an entirely new, export focused brand has not been just a smooth ride but rather one with exciting turns and twists and many smaller and larger challenges. Continuously securing the needed financial and human resources, the right partners and building a suitable business model without forgetting export regulations concerning natural food products is the daily life of a food entrepreneur. Try, fail and learn is the best way to progress walking hand in hand with being courageous and persevering in what you believe in, even in the face of challenges. For a small company, this is a game of risk and gambling, where a wrong move may mean not being able to pay wages the next month.
The grey hairs from trying and failing have not come without enormous gratitude for the lessons learned and the journey experienced, things that cannot even be quantified in monetary terms. For example, the challenges of packaging in 100% compostable pouches meant to be sold in one of the most moisture rich environments in the world. Challenge accepted. These lessons are the corner stones of the drive and motivation going forward. Building networks and partnerships in Japan, where the working culture is completely different is a rich experience with much to offer in terms of learning. Challenges related to sales planning and forecasting in Japan have lead to the most important lesson learned thus far. Building a good, solid and trust based relationship that runs in between two very different cultures is not built in a month, or even a year. It takes time, patience and empathy and the outcome is almost impossible to foresee, even with the largest export budgets.
The key is perseverance while being nimble
A year from now the experience and expertise will be on an entirely different level and this is certainly the best part about being an entrepreneur, the opportunities to learn and grow are endless. Who knows, maybe a year from now the focus will be on a different market and with slightly different natural food products. Along with courage and perseverance, what has proven to be vital for a small company is the ability to be agile and nimble, to change when change is needed and to let go of old patterns when they no longer serve you. As the base for all of this there needs to be an insatiable love and passion towards what you are building, and this is what keeps the entrepreneur going and even smiling in the face of challenges. From here we move forward and continue fulfilling our dream to bring the world’s cleanest wild food to the tables of people all around the world.
Read the news in Finnish here.
// Annika & Roosa