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Coronavirus epidemic boosts demand for domestic food 

Finnish food industry leaders say they'll be able to produce enough provisions to weather the ongoing crisis.

Lasagnevuoka
Finnish consumers are increasingly buying domestically-sourced foods. Image: Rinna Härkönen / Yle

There’s a growing demand for domestic foods as Finnish residents are in a partial lockdown due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. The country’s food self-sufficiency is however at a good level, according to the Finnish Food and Drink Industries' Federation (ETL).

Managing director of Fazer Bakery Finland Markus Hellström said that demand has grown significantly in recent days. New goods are being delivered to the shops every day.

"We are prepared to prioritise the baking of our most popular products," Hellström said.

Demand for some dairy products has also increased by up to double-digit percentage points. Finnish food and dairy manufacturer Valio said it is focussing on making basic products that are in higher demand and will cut down on specialized products that are less sought after.

"There has been particularly significant growth in products that preserve well such as packaged cheeses and spreads," executive vice president at Valio Markets Elli Siltala said.

Consumers buy more meat

Finnish meat and food company Atria has been ramping up its production in recent weeks with people stocking up on more meat than usual at home.

The delivery volumes of Atria's products this week were one and a half times more than a regular week. Demand has increased for the most popular, basic products such as minced meat.

"Factories are running at full capacity, the staff is in good shape and everyday operations are normal," CEO Juha Gröhn said.

Slaughterhouses in Finland have been able to function as usual despite the current situation and some have noted an increase in demand.

Finnish food manufacturer HKScan estimated that the demand in stores will offset the reduced demand for meat in restaurants.

"Smaller shops and wholesalers are currently quite interested in beef and meat in general," said Miikka Depner, CEO of Vainion Teurastamo Oy

No concern about food shortage

The value of Finnish food and beverage exports in 2018 was about EUR 1.6 billion and imports about EUR 4.6 billion. The average degree of domestic origin of food produced in Finland is 82 percent, according to the food federation. However, the numbers differ when it comes to different product categories.

According to Ruokatieto Yhdistys, an association that promotes Finnish food culture, only about 65 percent of the bread grain consumed in Finland is produced domestically and about 61 percent of tomatoes. About 81 percent of beef and veal products eaten in the country are domestically-sourced and about 95 percent of Finland's pork products are locally-raised.

Milk products, which are produced as much as they are consumed, have the most stable situation in Finland. Egg production is at 115 percent of consumption.

Pekka Mäki-Reinikka, senior advisor at Fazer Mill Finland said that there is no concern about the sufficiency of bread grain. The mills have significant stocks.

"There is enough flour and bread," Mäki-Reinikka said.

There, however, could be a shortage of yeast. Demand has more than doubled, according to Erkki Varonen, managing director of Finnish Yeast, the country's sole yeast manufacturer.

"We have put out as much as we can pack."

According to Varonen, the vitamins and trace minerals needed for yeast production are in stock for the rest of the year, and the sugar beet molasses used is also still available. The company now only sells its yeast domestically after exports abroad were suspended to ensure supply. Meanwhile, dry yeast is an imported product in Finland.

Business as usual

The biggest threat to production at the moment is the possible illness of food industry personnel, according to Markku Iivonen, CEO of dairy cooperative Maitomma.

Iivonen said the company is considering training members of its office staff in the case there are personnel shortages due to absences.

According to ETL, there are no exceptional changes being made to everyday tasks.

"The food industry normally follows good hygiene and safety of products and workers. This will continue during abnormal situations," Pia Pohja, the union's director-general said.

"Good hygiene is half our livelihood in any case, so we have a good baseline. We have always been washing our hands," Gröhn added.

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