Food matters in Sweden
Swedes, by and large, are outdoorsy people. Half of the country either own or have access to a sommarställe – or summer cottage – hitting the countryside to live the good life whenever they can. Swedish summer holidays are all about reconnecting with the countryside and the ‘over the fence’ conversations usually revolve around where to find the biggest hauls of forest berries. Asking a Swede where they found their cachet of chanterelles and you will be met with stony silence.
It is not a myth that many of them spend the month of July with family and friends living the country life. So Swedes grow up with an affinity for Mother Nature and the countryside that is rare in a world obsessed with high-speed everything. And here’s the rub – Swedes are some of the most wired, or wireless citizens in the world, depending on how you look at it.
‘What’s this got to do with food safety?’ you might ask.
Let’s join the dots – the country’s deep affinity with nature, a high-tech lifestyle, sustainable solutions – all of them colour how its people view food safety and quality – from farm to fork, animal care and husbandry and fresh, safe produce. Swedish consumers really want to know where their food comes from, how it was prepared, how the animals were treated and produce is grown – and how it all affects the environment. Sweden has some of the best farm animal welfare legislation in the world. In Sweden hens get to keep the tips of their beaks, pigs have tails, dairy cattle are outdoors in the summer months and farrowing crates and sow stalls are a thing of the past. Is it any wonder that Sweden is one of the world’s leading nations when it comes to food safety and animal farming.
Lets look at some of the Swedish companies at the vanguard of food safety, animal husbandry and sustainability.
Ask a Swede which brand of meatballs they eat and they will probably say ‘Mamma Scan’. And the company’s packaged meat products are a part of the culinary identity of the country. HK Scan is Sweden’s biggest and one of Europe’s leading meat companies with sales of EUR 1.9 billion in 2015 and it exports to some 50 countries. The company is engaged in the diverse processing and marketing of pork, beef and lamb, processed meats and convenience foods.
“Animal welfare and product safety are paramount to us and the environment is top of our agenda,” says HK Scan’s Director of Quality and Sustainability, Annelie Lundell. She goes on to say; “Sweden’s animal welfare act sets the bar internationally and because all of our producers are contracted by us, we have complete control over the entire production chain, from farm to fork, you might say.” She adds; “International customers want meat produced by us because they know Swedish meat is safe and that the animals have been treated well.”
On matters of sustainability and the environment, Annelie is clear; “I don’t think we get it across in the media or in our marketing how much we are doing in this area. Since 2003 we have cut our C02 emissions by 15% and by recently switching the entire company over to green electricity we are aiming to reduce our emissions by 50% by 2020. It doesn’t end there though, we are looking at every single link in the chain of our operations”.
And when it comes to the company trying to meet the needs of its customer, it’s pretty forward-thinking there too; “HK Scan has been working with Lund University and logistics specialist Bring for the past three years on a dynamic shell life solution that will inform customers of the temperature of the meat on offer.
Annelie would like to remind us that August 23rd is Swedish meatball day.
“Excellent animal welfare equals tastier meat,” according to Britt-Marie Stegs, owner of meat concept and brand Hälsingestintan. “Back in 1999 the range of meats on offer in stores in Sweden was poor and it was pretty much impossible to buy quality Swedish meat. We decided to change this by working with quality Swedish breeders of Hereford, Angus, Charolais, Simmentaler, Limousine and cross-breeds, as well as introducing our own mobile abattoir.”
Superior animal farming, excellent living conditions, care and good feed mark out the excellence of Hälsingestintan’s products. And for Britt-Marie how the animals meet their end is extremely important; “When animals are transported long distances and often overnight they become extremely stressed by the different environments. The animals may also be put in mixed pens, only adding to their discomfort and stress and some can lose up to 6 kilos in the process. When our mobile abattoir visits our farms the animals are in familiar surroundings and handled by someone they know. The entire process, operated by 5 people, treats the animal with dignity and saves on long journeys and the environment.”
Britt-Marie has already received enquiries from as far afield as Alaska, Australia, Russia and Germany about the mobile abattoir and sees room for growth; “I think would be especially useful in larger countries where there are huge distances between farms. I can also see it working in hot climates because the meat is refrigerated during transport.”
The modern, more sustainable and caring way of treating animals does not end there though with Hälsingestintan; “We bring the consumer closer to the farmer by offering full digital traceability. The consumer can use their smartphone to scan one of our labels to find out where the meat comes from and how it was raised.”
Britt-Marie concludes; “Eating less meat is generally good news for the environment. But what meat we do eat should be of the highest possible quality – that’s where we come in.”
Lantmännen is an agricultural cooperative and Northern Europe’s leader in agriculture, machinery, bio-energy and food products. Owned by 27,000 Swedish farmers, it has 10,000 employees, operates in more than 20 countries and has annual sales of SEK 37 billion.
From ‘field to fork’ is literally what Lantmännen Cerealia (food products) is all about, according to its CEO, Krister Zackari:
‘Our business is unique because our wheat, oats and grain are supplied by our owners – Swedish farmers – so we have full traceability. We also carry out four different tests on the produce we receive and we know that our farmers do not use
slurry manure because of its metal content or plant growth regulators. As well as our food products being safe, we are also committed to them being sustainable and we have just introduced a new product called ‘Friendlier wheat’. Working with farmers, our customers and using our extensive research and development resources, we have produced a total of 70,000 tones of friendlier wheat and reduced the C02 of producing it by 6,000 tonnes. All-in-all, we can produce this wheat and reduce C02 emissions by 20%, all while being promoting biodiversity. We call the cultivation concept ‘Climate & Nature’ and it is a thirty-nine criteria chain that farmers must fulfil, from sowing to harvest and transport.’
Catxalot, pronounced ‘Catch-a-lot’ might be one of Sweden’s most unique companies. Catxalot owners and couple Linnea Sjögren and Jonas Pettersson hand- harvest just a very little of the seaweed that grows in the waters off the beautiful West Coast of Sweden, near the fishing town of Grebbestad, which is the company’s base.
So what is it they are looking for?
Sweet kombu, kombu, gutweed, bladderwrack and the wonderfully-named ‘Mermaids fishing line’ are among the varieties they are after. It’s all done sustainably and the seaweed grows back. They then clean it, dry it, prepare it and sell it to top restaurants, ecological and organic product retailers and also sell their own products. You will find seaweed on the menu at some of the world’s best restaurants and it is a healthy and sustainable superfood.
Jonas and Linnea also run seaweed cooking workshops for visitors take tourists out to help them pick their product. Catxalot is all about “getting people to reconnect to the sea” and Linnea goes on to say; ‘Many Swedes forage for berries and mushrooms in the forests for example, so it seems only natural that you can forage coastal waters and beaches for food. Even using local divers to harvest the seaweed we can’t pick enough to meet the demand, so we import some from Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
But do Linnea and Jonas intend to expand the business? “We would like to make enough money from it to make a living and perhaps expand and buy a boathouse to operate from”.
For now though Catxalot will remain one of Sweden’s smallest and most unique companies.
The Northern Lights blazing across Sweden’s northern skies is an iconic image of the country. As is Polarbröd’s bread products and packaging. The company is based in northern Sweden and its breads are made there too. The third largest bread producer in Sweden, it produces and sells soft and hard flatbreads, light and dark bread portions, as well as ready-made sandwiches.
Why northern Sweden?
Because the family who run the business are from there and fifth generation Karin Bodin, Managing Director and Anna Borgeryd, Chief Strategist, like it that way. This is a company that thrives on tradition and continuity, but there is nothing old-style about it, Anna; ‘We have a long history of resource efficiency in this part of the world and as we are the fifth generation of bakers here we have a few insights about the state of the world. Of course, we have to make money to invest and grow but we care more about local jobs and creating a sustainable business.”
It would seem that Polarbröd is all too ware of its responsibilities to the environment and it is now in the process of transforming its business for generations to come. In 2012 the company set itself several goals for 2022; sustainably produced raw materials, renewable and efficient transport, renewable or recycled packaging materials and self-sufficiency in renewable energy. Big goals, but one has already been achieved – the company is now power self-sufficient, having invested in four wind turbines to power its bakeries with renewable electricity.
When it comes to the company’s range of breads quality, purity and taste are everything; “We invented the idea of freezing bread directly and packaging it and it thaws out by the time it reaches the customer. This comes from a long tradition here in northern Sweden of preserving food to get us through the winter. Also, there are no artificial preservatives or unnecessary additives in our breads.”
A temperature-control indicator label that checks the temperature of frozen and refrigerated food products all the way from producer to the store and even to your freezer? Clever huh? The really clever bit is that a Tempix indicator label will block the bar code on a food packaging label if the product is not completely fresh, rendering it unsellable and indicating where in the cold chain the product was handled incorrectly. And the customer gets a safe, high quality product when they pop it into their shopping basket.
Tempix is a Swedish company based in Gävle, a town in central Sweden and the indicator was invented by Henry Norrby and Mats Nygårdh back in 2002. The indicator is made up of an absorbent (thermal-paper label) and a holder/label lid with an activator that is applied to food packaging. As well as producing the labels Tempix provides the equipment and system around it and implements it for food producers, transporters and food retailers.
Marko Arola, CEO of Tempix:
‘We are expanding our temperature-control indicator label business through local agents and distributors in Finland, Turkey, Singapore and Australia and we are also involved in a project in the UK. I think that with Tempix, manufacturers, transporters and stores can achieve a chain of responsibility, as well as food safety in the cold chain, because we can customize labels to indicate how much time the product spends at each stage. And a big plus for us is that our system works with the bar code system that is used worldwide. We want to provide food safety for everyone and we are one of the few companies able to do it.’