Startup from Northern Europe to create “umami” from food loss

Startup from Northern Europe to create “umami” from food loss


Original author: Shunsuke Fujii | Strategic Consultant @Northern Europe Jun 7, 2023 Original article, click here
Translation: Nordic Umami Company Ltd.

What is it, that plant foods lack?  

The conclusion: It is Umami. The conclusion made by two Finns, Ms. Reetta Kivelä and Ms. Outi Mäkinen, who have deep knowledge in the field of plant food and technology. 

“Umami” plays an important role in creating the “deliciousness” of food.

The taste of the umami enhances the flavour of the ingredients, adds depth to the taste of the dish, and is an important flavour that supports the deliciousness. Any plant food combined with umami seasoning will taste delicious and everyone will eat it willingly, Ms Kivelä and Ms. Mäkinen thought.

With a doctorate in food science and technology, Ms. Mäkinen quickly set about developing umami from plant-based ingredients. 

As a result of experimenting with various ingredients at home by fermenting same way as in the food industry, Ms Mäkinen found the way of using "food waste" such as vegetable skins and bean meal that are discarded. With this unique technology, we succeeded in creating an amazing "umami".

Umami derived from this fermentation process, based on the "Waste to Taste" concept of reusing food waste, created the company Nordic Umami.

The Nordic Umami Company Ltd. has created innovative products and raised 2.6 million euros (approximately 380 million yen) in just one year after its establishment in 2021. We asked the new CEO, Kaisa Karhunen, who will take over the leap of the company, which continues to grow at an astonishing speed, about the company's products and the strong passion for "food" that has driven her for over 20 years.

Nordic Umami's "Umami"


Q: Please tell us why you focus on food loss?

Mrs. Karhunen: The reason for using it was the result of repeated experiments, but it was a coincidence that the umami seasoning was completed. We also want to to address the fact that 14% of the world's food is edible but is lost before it reaches the market.

Q: What kind of food waste is used specifically?

Mrs. Karhunen: For example, vegetables, fruit peels, legumes, brewer's lees, etc. are the main ones. In addition, we use only completely safe and edible items, not rotten ones, even if we say food loss or waste. In addition, we are conscious of clean labels, using as few raw materials as possible, and focusing on the transparency of the contents.

Q: What kind of products do you have?

Mrs. Karhunen: Currently, we have three main product lines:

  1. "Meatless Umami Bouillons"
  2. "Soyless Umami Sauce"
  3. "Umami Sea Salt"

All are gluten-free, additive-free, soy-free, wheat-free, and animal-based ingredients free.



New CEO Kaisa Karhunen

Q: Mrs. Karhunen, please tell us about yourself.

Mrs. Karhunen: I have been in the food business for over 20 years. I have experienced the food business from various aspects such as sales, marketing, category management, etc. at Valio, a major food company, and Unilever's food division.

Most recently, I worked independently in the food export business and as the COO of another food tech startup.



Q: You have strong passion for food. Please tell us your background

Mrs. Karhunen: The Karelian region in eastern Finland, where I grew up, has a traditional food culture rooted in it, including the birthplace of Karelian pie, which is said to be one of the country's representative dishes and national dishes. The forest is also rich in fresh herbs, berries and mushrooms. Picking and cooking mushrooms and blueberries, and eating dishes made with seasonal ingredients was very common. Growing up in this kind of environment, I have always had a passion for delicious and healthy food and cooking since I was a child, and I think my love and commitment to food was stronger than anyone else's. I think that's why I really enjoy my work even after working in this industry for 20 years.


Q: What made you decide to join Nordic Umami as CEO?

Mrs. Karhunen: Since I was a child, I have seen with my own eyes the hardships and difficulties involved in bringing food from farmers to the table, so I had a strong awareness of food loss even before I joined the company. One of the reasons I decided to join the company was that I was personally more aware of clean labels in recent years, and that I could make use of my many years of experience in the food business.

However, I think the final decisive factor was a word from my child.

I feel that today's children are more aware of global environmental issues, and one day my child asked me, "Why aren't you saving the world?" After joining Nordic Umami, I think she is now able to say confidently that my mother is doing her part to protect the earth.

Another reason why I decided to join the company is that I would like to increase my intake of vegetables rather than giving up eating meat completely. It is OK to use Nordic Umami products for meat dishes, and it is OK to use them in vegetarian dishes.

Also, being able to work hands-on suits me. Even if my title is CEO, I sometimes repair roof leaks, and I also talk to investors right after that.

That being said, there are many reasons for joining our company, lol!

After the interview

After the interview Mrs. Karhunen smiled and moved on to the next meeting.

After that, the author talked with the employees for a while. When it was time to go home from the company office Mrs Karhunen noticed the author, ran out of the meeting, rushed over to the author, and thanked him again.

During the interview Karhunen mentioned the word "people" several times. She also said that she especially likes sales where she can interact directly with people, but I'm sure she's an unparalleled good person and has a heart that values ​​"people" as much as "food". It must be the qualities of a CEO.


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