Jussi Loponen, head of research at Fazer: “Sometimes you have to dive deep”

Science is a valuable guiding light for a company such as Fazer, whose values revolve around responsibility. Our research activities are focused on food, while responsibility is above all linked with the welfare of people and the planet. Current research-based knowledge provides the best possible preconditions for our operations related to these themes.

I work as head of research at Fazer Lab, Fazer’s research and innovation unit. I am in charge of defining Fazer’s research policies and key research areas, as well as supporting the conduct of research at Fazer. There are many ways in which science and research-based knowledge serve us. Sometimes we require support for our choices, at other times a solid foundation to build on. We may also need to see far into the future to have the courage to be pioneers in new and emerging themes. Then again, science provides structure for our activities and guides us in the right direction when we come to forks in the road. The following has become my motto to describe my personal relationship with science in the business world: “Sometimes you have to dive deep to bring something to the surface, at other times a quick plunge is enough.”

Fazer is investing heavily in research and sees its value in engendering meaningful solutions and increasing the intellectual capital of the company. We have a dozen doctoral degree holders working for us, five of them in my team. Theses and dissertations are actively utilised as part of our research projects, and in fact three to five master’s theses as well as dissertation articles are completed here every year.

Additionally, we continuously take up new ways of conducting our research activities. Currently, one team member is working on their dissertation in Sweden, while we also have a researcher from the University of Helsinki with us through the PoDoCo programme.

Personally I find the relationship between academia and businesses quite straightforward, as long as transparency and trust are safeguarded – of course, knowing and encountering each other makes this easier. Indeed, the establishment of research networks and ecosystems is a matter that cannot be overemphasised. Under the Fazer Brainhow programme, for example, we contacted a number of researchers, specialists and professors with the aim of making use of the latest scientific views on a theme that is of interest to us: interconnections between nutrition, sleep, exercise and brain activity. All of the representatives of science were open to discussion and visits, while those who were asked for a literature review-type article on a specific subject also submitted such papers. This Fazer Brainhow network alone has included representation from the University of Helsinki, the University of Turku, the University of Eastern Finland and Örebro University.

The utilisation of science by companies requires investment in research and skilled staff by the companies themselves, at least to a degree where there is sufficient talent to apply research findings, from establishing research hypotheses to practical experimentation.

For business operations, it is of course essential to also be able to communicate meaningful results and, eventually, to turn them into marketable products or services. At Fazer, the research team works as part of Fazer Lab which also includes a team focused on open innovation and business development, naturally combining research with commercial activities and communications. This has turned out to be an agile way of redesigning Fazer’s operating culture, to facilitate experimenting with things and to inspire talented people in both research and commerce to join their forces and resources – results have already been on display in the media and even on the store shelf. Without science, many of our new and exciting initiatives would not have come to pass.

Jussi Loponen

The author is head of research at Fazer, doctor of food sciences and docent at the University of Helsinki.

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