Two major Japanese companies have visited Finland to get to know Finnish bioeconomy and natural products companies. The buyers’ trip, coordinated by Business Finland, opened important doors for Finnish companies to Japan, which is fervently looking for new bio-based solutions to replace the use of plastics in the packaging industry.
FINNISH EXPORTS IN THE BIOECONOMY SECTOR
Japan is the second largest source of plastic waste per person in the world after the United States. Some change to this distinction is desired, and the country already published a new national strategy to reduce the use of plastics in 2019. The strategy was supplemented in 2022 by a statute that is binding on companies. Measures include reducing the use of throw-away plastic in consumer products, innovative packaging design, plastic recycling and the introduction of biomass-based plastic products.
This is where Finnish expertise in bioeconomy and packaging industry solutions comes in. Finland is already known in Japan for its strong natural values and purity, and increasingly for its circular economy know-how. Japan is therefore well prepared to receive significant bioeconomy innovations from Finland.
BUSINESS FINLAND IS AN IMPORTANT INTERMEDIARY
“We regularly receive inquiries from Japanese companies regarding what Finland has to offer in relation to bioeconomy and biomaterials.”Inka-Liisa Häkälä, senior advisor at Business Finland Japan.
Häkälä, who has now been living in Japan for eight years, speaks and writes fluent Japanese, which has also been supported by studies at a local university. In Japan, companies like to do business in the local language. The role of Business Finland was to plan and coordinate the event, organize company visits and an interpretation service, and assist with other arranged activities during the week.
PLASTIC SUBSTITUTES FROM BREWING INDUSTRY WASTE
Kondo Shoten is a Japanese importer of plastics and other materials. The company is actively seeking new solutions for its industrial and consumer product customers, including sustainable bio-based products to replace the use of plastics.
The representatives of Kondo Shoten were particularly impressed by Granulous (The Boreal Project Oy), a recent startup in the bioplastics sector from Sotkamo. The company manufactures a compostable plastic substitute from the side streams of the food industry.
Granulous bio-composite is made from waste from the brewing industry, i.e., from used grain, of which millions of tons is generated per year worldwide.
Founded in 2020, Granulous won the title of the most interesting innovation at the PacTec, FoodTec & PlastExpo Nordic Fair in Helsinki in spring 2022.
“Together with VTT, we set out to develop a bio-based plastic substitute that decomposes in home compost conditions. The raw material of our product is 40% grain fiber, can be used with existing molds in the plastics industry and can be used in the early stage to make so-called ‘short life cycle products’, such as dishwashing brushes and toothbrushes”Joonas Sirviö, one of the founders and the managing director of Granulous.
Biobased plastic substitutes have great potential in Japan, as the country is lagging behind other Western countries in terms of bioeconomy. Globally, only 9% of plastic waste is properly recycled, and the production of recycled plastic represents only 6% of total plastic production.
“There is high demand for new biomaterials and different alternatives to replace virgin plastic in the packaging industry in Japan. We see the potential of an actor like Granulous and their unique solution to produce plastic substitutes from the side streams of the food industry. We follow the further development of the product with great interest”Yoshito Ota from Kondo Shoten
FINNISH-BRANDED ORGANIC CONSUMER PRODUCTS
Another Japanese company that visited Finland was Kobayashi Seiyaku. It is a large daily consumer goods company, which produces, for example, cosmetics, detergents, food and small home interior decoration products. Kobayashi Seiyaku is designing a consumer product related to the Finnish concept, for which they sought inspiration on a buyers’ trip to Finland.
Nordic Herbs Oy, which consumers know better in Finland as Yrttipaja, could be appropriately linked to the Finnish-oriented product launched by the company. Nordic Herbs focus on the production, further processing and sale of wild harvested and naturally produced plants. The company sells various spice blends, herbal teas and bathing products and has the largest selection of individual herbs in Finland.
“It was a great opportunity to meet representatives of a company like Kobayashi Seiyaku in person and introduce them to our expertise in organic farming and natural products. We have already received great feedback from the Japanese team about our products. Although our potential cooperation only concerns a single consumer product, this is a great opening for us to get to know the Japanese market and consumers’ interest in the Finnish brand”says Nordic Herbs Chief Commercial Officer Keir Cornelius
The Finnish tradition of utilizing natural materials and craftsmanship support the entry of innovative Finnish companies into the Japanese market.