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The power of pure grains


The Nordic countries have always been huge fans of bread and grain-based products such as porridge, muesli and cereals, and consumers in Scandinavia find a great range of breads and grain-based products in bakeries and supermarkets.

However, this development has been slowed down by food trends that favour organic as well as gluten-free products to match eating habits and consumers’ aversions to wheat and gluten. This is exactly where Helsingin Mylly, or Helsinki Mills, as it is known internationally, comes in, as for many years Helsinki Mills has been producing different types of grains: organic, conventional and gluten-free.

The company processes locally grown Finnish grains, and every year the family company mills about 100,000 t of wheat, rye, oats and barley. By volume, wheat is the biggest but oat has been gaining ground recently, as it is used for gluten-free oat products.

“We have been expanding our oat milling capacities recently, but it is not simple to mill and process oats, which are naturally gluten-free. However, we have managed to keep the oats absolutely pure and free from other grains throughout the entire production process. This can only be achieved with strict sorting and separation on the field, during the harvest and in the mill. Oats and other grains must not be processed in the same machinery. We have managed the trick, and for some years now, we have been developing a growing range of gluten-free pure oat products,” says Niklas Kumlin, new CEO since June 2017.

Mr. Kumlin, whose great-grandfather founded the milling company in Helsinki in 1934, is determined to adhere to old milling traditions and to boast innovation in order to continue the long-standing corporate history.

The origin of Helsingin Mylly can be traced back to the 17th century when the Puhk family founded their first mill in Estonia. In the 1930s, Mr. Kumlin’s ancestors decided to set sail for Finland, which still depended heavily on imported wheat at that time.

“My family started to operate the first and only mill in Helsinki. This laid the basis for what Helsinki Mills is today: a forward-looking company with a close eye on current trends.” The years during World War II saw confiscation and demolition by the Soviet regime, and only after the fatal war years could the mill recover and redesign its milling process.

It was in these years that a move towards diversification resulted in new growth. The company even introduced crispbread production.

Today, the broad portfolio includes flakes, porridge products, flours, baking goods, brans, breakfast cereals and biscuits. In the last decades two new subsidiaries in Vaasa and Närpiö started operation to complement production at the Järvenpää headquarters.

“We have been working hard to raise consumer awareness for our products. Some years ago, we took over the muesli and cereal brand Sun, which is well-known in Finland. We have since then updated the brand, which has led to an increase in sales for muesli and breakfast cereals,” says Mr. Kumlin. “In addition, we have experienced strong growth in Finnish oat products, as not only here in Finland but also internationally the demand for gluten-free products is soaring. We produce high-quality oats, and we have established ourselves as a major exporter of grain products, in particular those based on organic Finnish oats.”

Helsinki Mills sells a high percentage of organic products either under its own brands Helsinki Mills and Sun and private labels, but conventional products are still on offer. Today, the company employs a workforce of 80 people at its three production sites and generates a turnover of 40 million EUR.

“We export about a third of our production. Export has seen excellent growth, as we are able to supply the grain-based products that consumers wants. It is essential to identify the demand on the market. Our key market is still Europe, but we are present worldwide,” says Mr. Kumlin.

Success is largely down to export, organic products and gluten-free oats, but the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility is another factor that is important for today’s consumer. “Sustainability is in our genes. It starts with organic production, but we have also implemented other environmentally friendly measures,” points out Mr. Kumlin. “We use hydropower from our own power plant and offer recyclable packaging materials. Organic production will continue to increase in the coming years.”

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