Sustainability in the Food & Beverage Sector: Interview with Annikka Hurme CEO of Valio, Elli Holappa CEO of Jungle Juice Bar and Leena Laitinen CEO of Alko

Sustainability is a matter of all companies in different industries and individuals. We had the pleasure of interviewing three professionals in their fields: Annikka Hurme CEO of Valio, Elli Holappa CEO of Jungle Juice Bar and Leena Laitinen CEO of Alko. We placed Annikka, Elli and Leena on Women CEOs in Finland Who Have Impacted their Company’s Sustainability Practices list because they have done significant work in implementing sustainability into the industries and companies they are working in.

Reducing environmental impact with new packaging solutions

Developing the business better for the environment is a current topic. Valio has a long history and for the past five years they have prioritized the responsibility and environmental matters. Valio is taking a major step towards even more environmentally friendly package solutions: they were the first in the world to launch fully plant based carton milk packages and already now 2/3 of their packages are plant based. 

Jungle Juice bar is using PLA plastic for packaging their plant-based smoothies and juices. Although PLA plastic is a more sustainable packaging option, there are still opportunities for improvement according to Elli: 

“In the future, I want our company to use straws and cups that are even more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The biggest challenge so far is that the packaging material needs to be see-through as colors are a very important part of our product. I personally like the idea of edible packaging.”

Alko has been in the alcoholic beverage industry for decades and already in 1950 Alko started to recycle beverage packaging. Beverage packaging accounts for a significant proportion of a beverage’s carbon footprint so Alko is also looking into packaging materials that are even more environmentally friendly than the current options.

Picture: Leena Laitinen, Alko.

“Alko has now introduced a new and innovative wine packaging solution that is environmentally friendly: flat plastic bottles. Flat bottles are made with smaller amounts of glass and because of their shape they can be transported more efficiently,” Leena explains.

Heading towards carbon neutrality at production level

The dairy industry aims towards carbon neutrality through new innovations and technologies. According to Annikka, Valio’s plant in Riihimäki uses environmentally friendly technology to achieve maximum energy efficiency by making efficient use of the waste heat generated during manufacturing.

In addition, Valio has set two big goals: “We aim for carbon neutral dairy production by 2035 and we have changed the pricing of dairy: we are paying “responsibility bonus” to our farmers, the owners of Valio, in order to ensure animal welfare and sustainability. We are one of the first companies in paying responsibility bonus and I am proud of that,” Annikka explains.

At the moment Jungle Juice Bar is also investing to achieve carbon neutrality. The latest big step towards it has been carbon footprint calculations made by Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). “With the calculations we can over compensate our carbon footprint and even head to carbon negativity,” Elli explains.

According to Leena, Alko is cooperating closely with Nordic alcohol monopolies and suppliers to improve product sustainability: “Together with the other Nordic countries we have influence on the suppliers and we have always developed environmental issues together with suppliers. Suppliers have adapted environmental aspects to their operations very well. They understand that responsibility and environmental friendliness are important factors for the Nordic consumers.”

Picture: Elli Holappa, Jungle Juice Bar.

Personal motivations for improving businesses

All of Jungle Juice bar’s smoothie and juice ingredients come from nature. That is why Elli wants to give something back: “The wellness of nature enables our business.” 

It is also very important for Elli to be part of educating children and youngsters. The plant-based beverage is a delicious option for fast food and it helps children and youngsters to adapt a healthy lifestyle.

Annikka explains why she wants to lead Valio and the food industry into sustainability:

“My own interests are originated from the food industry and sufficiency of food. Now that I am leading a large Finnish company where we are doing international business in the food industry, I have become aware of the issues that food is sufficient not only in Finland, but on a global scale too. There must be enough food for the future generations and therefore we want to take care of high quality sustainable food production.”

For Leena, responsibility values are a natural part of her work and career: “Personally, responsibility issues have always been important to me and I have always been interested in developing and improving matters. Before working at Alko, I worked for Snellman and S Group where responsibility values are strong.”

Competitive advantage from sustainability

According to Elli, Jungle Juice Bar’s customer base considers sustainability practices as self-evident. Customer knowledge increases continuously and the purchase decision is based on environmental impacts of the product. “Our plant-based product is a competitive advantage for us,” Elli says.

Customer satisfaction is also beneficial for Alko’s business. “We are interested in what consumers think.The Green Choice symbols provide information about the environmental friendliness and sustainable development of the beverage so the customers can find products that fit their needs and wants. There are six different Green Choice symbols: biodynamic, environmentally responsible packaging, local sustainability certificate, natural wine, organic and vegan,” Leena describes. 

For Valio, their sustainability investments have provided cost savings and improved processes. Sustainability has also been beneficial to the brand image and as a result, this year Finns ranked Valio as the most sustainable brand for the seventh consecutive year.

“Sustainability is important to us consumers as we want to know how food and clothes are produced. I believe that if we at Valio, want to do business in the next 100 years, we have to place responsibility, environmental and sustainability matters as a focus,” Annikka explains.

Picture: Annikka Hurme, Valio.

Challenges within the industries

According to Annikka one challenge in food industry is the lack of standardization in calculations: 

“There is no global calculation model with which we could compare things. There is a lot of discussion about the carbon footprint but I believe that sufficiency of clean water will become a key issue. The calculations of water footprint need to be standardised.”

Leena has the same thoughts about measurements: It is complicated to calculate long and complex value chains so that the results are calculated correctly and transparent for consumers. 

Transparency overall will be an extremely important element in the future. Thus, Alko has launched #nofilter campaign where they share their successes and challenges in responsibility efforts without a filter

It is important for Leena that facts are shared the way they are not and not turned into green washing: 

“In my opinion, it is important that the consumer receives information as it is. Transparency is also related to the way information is shared: facts need to be available and shown clearly so that consumers can make value-based choices.”

Food waste is also a bigger problem than many people realize. According to Elli food waste is a major issue that is not addressed enough, even though of its notable environmental impact which is comparable with plastic. 

“We are actively working on reducing the serving and kitchen waste. During the spring 2019 our chain started using the ResQ Club app and as a result we have been able to reduce the amount of our display case food waste by 60 %,” Elli explains.

Let’s recognize green achievements

In our Fairforce list, Women CEOs in Finland Who Have Impacted their Company’s Sustainability Practices, we want to honor the following women for their impactful roles in leading businesses to sustainability. We want to share with the world how professionals are making a difference for our planet by working hard to increase sustainability practices in their industries. 

Annikka, Elli and Leena, thank you for taking the time for our interview. It was a pleasure connecting with you and hearing how energized you are about the sustainability practices and future goals in businesses and industries.