New research-based knowledge and skilled experts – these are the reasons for the food company Valio to collaborate with the University of Helsinki. The fact that expertise in a number of disciplines can be found under one roof constitutes an important asset.
“There are plenty of experts are available for projects,” says Harri Kallioinen, Senior Vice President for research and development at Valio.
According to him, Valio could scarcely exist without RDI collaboration. Joint projects with the University community supplement the company’s own research and development operations.
“Very often, questions emerge in Valio’s own projects to which we may not necessarily find answers. They require the University and its expertise,” Kallioinen sums up.
University networks benefit the company
Among other things, Valio supervises students’ master’s theses and funds doctoral theses. Recently, Maija Greis completed a doctoral thesis that compared the mouthfeel of plant-based and dairy-based yoghurts.
“It produced really interesting knowledge and understanding.”
In animal science, ongoing is the ambitious Graze-WELL project, which helps farmers solve problems related to the welfare and grazing of dairy cattle. And the IRMA project is looking for climate smart feeding solutions to dairy production.
In food research, Valio collaborated with the University of Helsinki to establish the European EIT Food innovation community. Currently ongoing is the HealthFerm project (link in Finnish only), which investigates the fermentation of plant-based raw materials. According to Kallioinen, joint EU projects are important, and Valio would be unable to join them as easily without the University of Helsinki.
“The University has extensive networks. We naturally want to collaborate with top talent.”
Valio’s experts also give lectures to students and are taking part, for the second year running, in the Viikki Food Design Factory. They provide sparring to teams that are developing business ideas in incubators.
“By offering our expertise, we can help them advance their projects and, in the best case, make use of the results ourselves.”
Intensifying collaboration opens up new opportunities
This autumn, Valio and the University of Helsinki are taking a big leap forward by entering into a partnership agreement. Kallioinen believes it will provide an additional boost to their operations and deepen knowledge on both sides.
“From Valio’s perspective, one of the benefits of collaboration can be identifying new areas of expertise at the University that we have not previously been able to utilise.”
Among other things, Valio is interested in how food products can be developed, both nutritionally and technologically. Research-based knowledge is needed on both dairy products and plant-based raw materials.
Environmental impact management is important, from primary production to the shop shelf. For example, how can biodiversity be measured? And how does artificial intelligence affect the food industry? Other key themes include the circular economy and the efficient use of resources.
Researchers can solve product development problems
For the University of Helsinki, partnerships are extremely important. Collaboration with companies such as Valio offers the opportunity to learn, experiment with new things and promote interdisciplinary activities. It also helps maintain high standards in research and teaching.
“It’s great that our partners see research and education as a societal resource,” says Liaison Manager Arja Kosonen from the University of Helsinki.
According to Kallioinen, joint projects can rarely be said to result in new products for the market. Instead, their most important outcome can be a solution to a problem that has hindered product development.
For instance, multidimensional challenges associated with environmental impact cannot be solved without academic experts.
“High-quality research is hugely important.”