Catch of the Day: Serving Fish from Finland
From a small family-run business that’s growing internationally; to a very traditional seafood company with a new plan to conquer Asia, there’s a lot of diversity in Finland’s aquaculture industry.
With tens of thousands of lakes all over their country, it’s no wonder that Finns love fish.
Finland’s pure clean waters are the starting point for an industry that values high quality produce, flavour and tradition, as well as innovation.
Those qualities have been on display at the 2017 Global Seafood Expo in Brussels, where Finnish seafood companies were once again among the finalists in the innovation competition. And they’ll also be showcased to buyers soon at HOFEX, Asia’s leading hospitality and trade show, in Hong Kong.
Lake To Plate
When you spend most of your free time fishing, at some point you might as well make it your business. That’s the realisation Vesa Lappi came to in 2012, a few years after selling his previous company.
“It’s a crazy story!” he says, from his home in central Finland. “When I sold my drilling business, I spent eight or nine months just free time. And I was fishing all the time. Even when there was ice”.
The peace and quiet of time spent on a boat, with rod and reel, gave Vesa time to think about what he wanted to do next.
“It was the first time in my life no customers called me, and I was just fishing in lakes in the Kuopio area and the north part of Finland”.
“Fishing has been my passion and I have been smoking fish and making products with fish, and then I just decided this is my passion, I enjoyed that, and so I will start a fish business”.
And so Kala Lappi Oy was born. At first, just small.
“The first year we only had one product, but every year we are introducing a new product” explains Vesa. The products are innovative, like the fish hummus, the fire smoked trout, or cold smoked fish flavoured with Finnish junipers. And true to form the company will be adding another new – as yet secret – product towards the end of summer 2017.
Quality Finnish Rainbow Trout
At Kala Lappi, they believe the combination of excellent fish and careful preparation are the keys to the success of their unique products.
“All the fish we are using is Finnish rainbow trout. And the fish we accept, they must be the best ones. Very very fresh […] if the basic raw material is not the best, you cannot make it the best!”
Kala Lappi now works with three local fish suppliers in Finland, and they’ve seen exports grow over the last few years. It means they can look to new markets in the future, selling their products directly to consumers, as well as to importers for supermarkets and high-end restaurants.
“Now we are going step by step” says CEO Vesa Lappi. “We are supplying to Germany, Denmark, France and our neighbours Sweden. We have already supplied new batches to japan and they love our fish”.
And what do customers look for? It’s not just about price, says Vesa.
“We are talking about quality. Some consumers are looking for price, but there is a lot of consumers looking for food quality, they want to enjoy their food, and that is our target group”.
Kala Lappi CEO Vesa Lappi cooks fish over an open fire
Despite running a busy, growing business, Vesa Lappi hasn’t given up his life on the lakes. You can still find him in his boat most weekends.
“I eat so much fish. When I’m not working, I spent 80% of my time fishing. I eat fish every day, and when I’m fishing in summer I take fish from the lake and I make a fire and I cook that fish” he says.
“I’m still a fisherman”.
Fish sellers in Helsinki Market Square. Credit: Martin Brandt / Suomen valokuvataiteen museo / Alma Media / Uuden Suomen kokoelma
Helsinki’s Seafood Traditions
While Kala Lappi is a young company, Helsinki’s Kalatalo seafood has been around in one form or another since the 1920s.
“We’re the most established smoking and processing facility in Helsinki” CEO Janne Rantanen says proudly.
With so much seafood know-how at their fingertips, Kalatalo are focusing on high end products for the Asia market at HOFEX, where they’ll meet buyers for the first time. With specialist knowledge of China gained through a previous finance career when he lived and worked in the country, Janne Rantanen knows this is a market with a lot of potential for Kalatalo.
“The retail market especially in China is totally crazy, it’s very difficult to penetrate” he explains. “So what we’re looking for in Asia, especially in horeca (hotels / restaurants / cafes) is import companies. We’re not trying to establish our own brand, we’re looking for sources who want clean products from the Nordics. High-end restaurants, and high-end hotels”.
Finnish seafood on ice
Quality Beats Price
China’s booming middle and upper classes have a keen eye for quality products, and they also have money to spend. Even small cities – with populations larger than Finland – have 5-star international hotels, trendy restaurants and buzzing bar scenes. And they’re all looking for the finest seafood produce to serve their customers.
“You shouldn’t go to Asia just with a cheap price, that’s definitely not the idea” cautions Janne.
“It’s the high-end quality. It’s the pure source. Having Nordic crystal clean waters. The main concern in China is food safety, food quality being poor or even fake. So trustworthy Scandinavian companies with pure products and sources are in demand” he says.
For their first major foray into the Asia market, Kalatalo will concentrate on caviar or rainbow trout roe.
“We are one of only two companies pasteurizing roe or caviar in Finland in big qualities” says Janne. “It is a product with a 12 month shelf life, so it’s very much an export product”.