The delights of dairy

Made from pure Finnish milk sourced from some of the healthiest cows found anywhere in Europe, Valio dairy products are enjoyed by customers and consumers the world over

In 1905, a group of Finnish family farmers who had become known locally for making what their consumers considered to be the ‘best butter in the world’ came to the collective decision that they wanted to start selling their product outside of the country. In order to do so they, along with their dairy co-operatives, founded Valio and before long the company was successfully exporting high-quality butter by boat to England.

“To this day, Valio remains owned by a collective of 5500 Finnish family farmers,” begins Valio’s Senior Vice President, Annamari Lammi. “During the course of more than 100 years, we have grown into a major player in the international dairy ingredients market as well, exporting products to more than 60 countries. We are also unique in the sense that all of the profits made by the business are paid back to the farmers that own Valio, which is a business model that we are very proud of.”

The ‘crown jewel’ of the business, as Annamari refers to it, is of course its butter, which as recently as March 2018 was the recipient of the ‘Best in Class’ award at the World Championship Cheese Contest 2018 in Wisconsin, USA. “Our customers and consumers the world over appreciate not only the outstanding taste of Valio butter, but also the fact that it is made from pure, high-quality Finnish milk,” Annamari continues. “All Valio butter is made by the professionals at the Seinäjoki dairy and is used by everyone from bakeries, to the processed food industry and ice cream makers. For example, our butter can be tasted in croissants baked by some of the leading bakeries in France. Our French customers truly value the premium quality of our butter, which is why they often refer to it as the ‘Rolls-Royce of butter’.”

Valio has also been at the forefront of innovation within the dairy industry for a number of years, and was responsible for introducing the world’s first lactose-free milk, based on its patented Eila® lactose-free technology, in 2001. In 2017 alone, Valio introduced 109 new products to both the Finnish and international markets. These include its completely plant-based Valio Oddlygood® family of products, which tap into decades of product and technological development, and its Valio MiFU® meat substitute. The latter product, which can be used in recipes that call for the inclusion of meat or chicken, taps into the growing enthusiasm for meat substitute products, and in June 2018 the company’s Valio MiFU®strips won the ‘Best New Brand/Business category at the World Dairy Innovation Awards.

“Valio MiFU® is a great example of how milk can be turned into many forms and uses,” Annamari states. “The story of these products began when our internal innovation team was assigned the task of coming up with a new way to use the casein protein found in milk to find alternative protein sources to meat. Among the most important jobs was developing a texture that could be pan-fried and ensuring that the product remained the same when heated, and easy to use in food preparation.

“Developing a new product, however, requires more than just a product development desk and a laboratory. Perfecting creations such as our Valio MiFU® strips takes time and is only possible thanks to the collaborative efforts of our product developers, researchers and production professionals. It is always an especially exciting moment when a new product idea is taken to a grander scale, but naturally we always test the products with our consumers. After all, they provide the most important feedback.”

Cattle and calf welfare is at the foundation of Valio’s successful operations, with healthy cows known to produce the high-quality, clean milk that is at the heart of its products. “It is for this reason that we implemented the most extensive quality and production reform in our history, with the aim of achieving continuously improving animal welfare standards,” Annamari states. “An important recent milestone for this reform package was the introduction of a responsibility bonus that we started to pay our farmers at the start of 2018 to promote animal welfare.

“Linked to this bonus are Valio’s new production guidelines, which call for dairy farmers to commit to things like regular planned animal healthcare, and hoof check-ups and treatment. Additionally, every new barn must be a free-stall barn to give the cows the ability to move around freely, and all animal feed used should be soy-free and GMO-free. At present, 93 per cent of the milk produced by Valio’s farms are covered by these guidelines, with the aim being to achieve the 100 per cent mark by 2020.”

Launches and investments
In July 2018, Valio also invited farmers to join its manure ecosystem. Finnish farms and agricultural sector players have worked for several decades to make better, more efficient use of phosphorus and nitrogen fertilisers, while also preventing potential eutrophication caused by runoff into waterways. With the new manure process patented by Valio, nutrients could be recirculated more effectively, while the ecosystem it is trying to create would bring different players together to pursue local and centralised solutions for manure processing. Such a network could result in significant positive effects on the environment.

As well as new product launches, Valio has also initiated several important investments and internal procedures in recent years that are helping to further its legacy. In 2017, the company celebrated the opening of its new snack plant in Riihimäki. With an annual production capacity of 120 million kilos, the plant represents the largest single investment in Valio’s history. “We consider this plant to be the most modern facility of its kind, particularly in terms of sustainability,” Annamari explains. “The dairy’s energy, logistics and water consumption solutions reduce losses and conserve natural resources, and over three-quarters of the thermal energy used at the plant is produced from renewable fuels.”

With subsidiaries in Sweden, Russia, Estonia and the United States, Valio added to its international presence in May 2018 with the establishing of a new head office in Shanghai for its Valio China business. Focused on serving the needs of this key market, Valio China has also opened new retail and food service business units to accompany its existing ingredients units. “As a global company, all of the markets we operate in are important to us,” Annamari concludes. “Also, as with any company, we are constantly seeking new business opportunities and profitable growth through all of our categories, and look forward to what the future holds for Valio.”