The corona crisis has come to Denmark. At Naturli’, who make plant-based food products, the crisis has accelerated several innovation projects which are being released now, while sales are quieter than normal.
Everyone was geared up to make a really cool entrance at the world’s biggest trade fair for healthy food, Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim in California. There was Henrik Lund in the USA, two days before it was all due to start, with a hired van packed with impatient IKEA shelves and eager publicity material, when a mail popped in saying the whole thing was cancelled.
“That meant we would lose out on a lot of meetings we had set up with American supermarkets, and ‘Dammit!’ was all I could say at that moment,” remembers Henrik Lund, CEO of Naturli’, producers of plant-based foods since 1988.
Ups and downs in showbiz
Back in 1988, Naturli’ had a very narrow product range, consisting primarily of alternatives to milk based on soya and oats. Those were the days when their products were placed on the bottom shelves in the supermarkets, and you almost needed a doctor’s prescription to buy them – the checkout assistant would certainly say ‘get well soon’ when you paid for them.
Now the plant-based drinks are classics and the product range has expanded to include meat substitutes based on peas, gluten-free ice cream, frozen pizzas, and butter without milk or cream, while in daily life it is not merely trendy to order a caffe latte with oat milk; there are places in Copenhagen where you have to remember to say so if you don’t want plant milk in your coffee.
“In the last five years alone, there has been an enormous change in that area, blowing a fair wind in our sails, and we have learnt to adapt all the time. But of course, it hurts when many of the big supermarket campaigns with our products are put on stand-by just now,” says Henrik Lund. He is neither twiddling his thumbs nor panicking, however.
Naturli’ produces a wide range of plant-based food products, from drinks based on rice, oats and soya to meat substitutes based on peas, frozen pizzas and gluten-free ice cream.
He and the rest of the organisation are making use of the crisis period to get up to speed with all the ideas and innovative projects that had to wait while daily life was busy, but are being aired now, when sales are quieter than normal.
“Things go up and down in showbiz, but although we are affected just now, we are trying to look ahead and make use of the time, holding Skype meetings about all the projects we have had on the back burner for a long time,” says Henrik Lund.
New products, online shop and research
As a result, Naturli’ has tested production and designed 36 new products in the dairy, fresh meat, frozen and grocery categories, which they will be introducing in the course of the next nine months. The company has also laid plans for what they will do if their customers are unable to go shopping another time. In the pipeline they have an online shop, which can sell the full range of products and deliver them to the door if there is a crisis again.
Finally, there has been a good chance to go in depth with the various research projects they are taking part in. One at Aarhus University aims to develop a snack based on Danish-grown vegetables, which can reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Another project is to investigate whether it is possible to make plant milk or meat substitutes from various residual products.
“As we are a relatively small company in the sector, innovative projects are a very important investment in our future. And just imagine, if we could reduce food waste from our own production or from other companies to make new products. That would be fantastic,” says Henrik Lund. He can see several trends in the future for Denmark after the corona crisis.
“I believe we will see a change of attitude among consumers after a dismal period like this. There will be a greater demand for enjoyment and positive, healthy self-indulgence – and not least, people will reconsider their lives and rethink how they spend their time,” he says.
Better meetings, less travel – and Danish products
At Naturli’ they have already found that meetings during the crisis have been the best ever, because virtual meetings are disciplined, structured, and far more efficient than otherwise.
“People listen, and we have each other’s attention in a completely different way, so even when the crisis is over, I hope we will be holding more meetings of that kind instead of travelling about so much,” says Henrik Lund. He also believes that the significance and importance of Danish-produced foods will be greater.
“We have come veeery close to being as patriotic as the Norwegians during the crisis. It will be important, too, when it comes to getting Danish industry up and running again on the other side of corona. Along the way, I hope we can help to lift some of the smaller players, or at least play a part in re-establishing some of the businesses that right now are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
This article was written by Sanne Opstrup Wedel and was originally published in Nordea Invest Magasinet.