It’s lunchtime. I’m walking past a row of restaurants in a shopping centre and meet a friend who is coming out of a grocery shop. She is holding Mamma’s oat pancakes. “These are healthy,” she says, “I’m not kidding.” These are the same pancakes that won the silver award for the best Estonian ready-made food in 2020.
Saarioinen, which has its roots in Finland, produces convenience food under the Mamma brand and expanded to Estonia in 2009 by opening a convenience food factory here. Estonia was chosen as the company’s Baltic hub because Estonia has a similar business culture and mutual understanding to Finland.
Janek Kadarik, Head of the Foundation of Rapla County Development and Business Centre, recalls that the decisive factor in Saarioinen’s relocation to Rapla, which is 55 kilometers or around half an hour’s drive from Tallinn, was the welcoming municipality. “At the time, the landowner, the water company and the local government were very willing to communicate, and cooperation was smooth from the start,” Kadarik says.
Secondly, for production, Estonia is logistically in a good location for both the Nordic and Baltic regions. This is the hub of Saarioinen’s ready-made meals market. From here, the distribution of products is simple and convenient. In addition, Finland’s metropolis Helsinki is not far from here.
The third big reason Saarioinen chose Estonia was the lower production costs at the time compared to Finland. Admittedly, wage costs in Estonia are no longer exactly low, but employees in smaller towns are more loyal. At the same time, recruiting people from Tallinn and Harju County to work in Raplamaa is also possible, as the commute is rather short – between half an hour and an hour.
Stress-free convenience food
Saarioinen Estonia manufactures products under the Mamma brand. The company’s marketing manager, Kai Põldemaa, stresses that Mamma is not a substitute for cooking at home with your family or friends when you have time and energy to really enjoy the process. The company is not trying to compete in this category. Mamma is all about convenience food. It’s food that someone else has prepared for you. Yes, it is packaged, but prepared in the same way as food at home. It’s food that you can take out of the package and enjoy as real food without any guilt. A healthy alternative.
The convenience food trend is growing as the pace of people’s lives gets faster and faster and there is no time or energy to cook. The question “What’s for dinner?” can be the most unpleasant part of the day for a tired parent.
That’s why Mamma’s food is made just like it is at home, only in much larger quantities. Almost every pancake, salad and soup is handmade. They are free from unnecessary additives. That’s why Saarioinen’s foods do not have a very long shelf life. “We cannot fully escape from additives. Baking soda is also one of these substances and something we can’t avoid,” admits Põldemaa. Flavour enhancers, however, are not added to Mamma’s foods. Every day, up to 180 people do their bit to get the food ready, packaged and sent on its way for people to enjoy.
What adds to the good taste is the fact that, according to a study by the European Food Safety Authority, Estonia is one of the places with the cleanest food in Europe and the world, with far fewer toxins being used. Estonia has a huge amount of unspoilt nature, a low population density and a fast-growing organic farming sector, combined with determined and tech-savvy minds. This makes Estonia an excellent destination for the food industry.
To each their own
Mamma’s assortment is varied and predominantly made with Estonian tastes in mind. Often the choice of taste preference is also done by the retail store, which makes the first selection of what goes on sale at the counter and what does not. For the Finnish market, Saarioinen Estonia also produces some products and these recipes have been developed in cooperation with Finnish product developers. Although you might think that the tastes of the tribal peoples in Estonia and Finland are similar, they are not. According to Põldemaa, there are big differences in preference.
Despite the different food trends, people tend to buy chicken products the most. Saarioinen’s biggest hit is the chicken Caesar salad. The salad is packaged in a way that the eater can mix and match the ingredients to customise the salad exactly to their liking. The classic flavours will stick around and nothing will change that. As for soups, borsch, solyanka and pea soup are the most popular. Classical mayonnaise-based salads have fallen in popularity.
Food production also helps Saarioinen to understand human nature. A striking nuance in food production is that very often people say they want something, but their purchasing behaviour does not go along with it. For example, the trend toward veganism seems big, but sales are low. Predicting trends is sometimes quite difficult. But people do not want food with artificial additives. That is for certain. Packaging must be recyclable and there can’t be too much of it. “This has come to stay and we’re running with it,” says Põldemaa.
In the food industry, there are plenty of competitors and people often choose based on their income. During the pandemic, sales of restaurant food ordered by courier increased significantly, a choice which is more expensive than buying ready-made soups and meals from the grocery shop. Given the rapid rise in prices, Mamma will likely become a more popular choice in the long term, especially because Mamma products can also be ordered by courier.
As long as Mamma is making us pancakes, you are welcome to consider doing business in Estonia. Read more about business opportunities in Rapla county, Estonian Food sector, and send us a request for e-Consulting.