It’s devilish – the fact that the lovely, creamy, fatty mouthfeel in many foods equals with unhealthy, unsustainable fats, derived often from palm oil. Fortunately, an innovator team from University of Helsinki has come up with a better alternative.
OleoFlow is the result of material physicists and food scientists re-engineering a sustainable fat

Despite the increasing awareness of palm oil cultivation’s impact on deforestation in very vulnerable places on earth, the global appetite for foods getting their fatty mouthfeel from this crop continues to grow.  

So far, it has been a challenge to use other vegetable oils in achieving the same mouth caressing feel. However, the devil is in the details, as the old saying goes. When you study the details, you can generate new solutions to old problems. That is exactly what team OleoFlow has done with fat, by developing a new type of lipid material for the food industry. This new fat solution can be produced out of locally available plants instead of palm oil and possesses functional features affecting fat digestion in a novel way, that can reduce the risk of obesity. 

Team OleoFlow is a multidisciplinary team from the University of Helsinki, with scientific expertise on food and material sciences, nutrition, and physiology. This interesting combination of know-how is why the result is something out of the ordinary and untraditional: a fat solution of vegetal origin that adds control over product’s nutritional and satietal profile, without jeopardizing their mouthfeel and taste. 

Fast track to food business and its networks

OleoFlow’s out-of-the-box solution has the potential to become the “xylitol of fats”, as Anton Nolvi, the future COO of the company says. However, to get there the team needs to understand the workings of food business. The route-to-market of even the most interesting new technologies takes place via learning the landscape and the players of the industry where the novel solution is targeted. In OleoFlow’s case this means for example grasping the different requirements of food companies, understanding the basics of their end customers’ - consumers’ - needs and expectations, and comprehending relevant food product legislation. Hence, the team joined the Viikki Food Design Factory’s Germinator programme in the autumn of 2021.

- The most valuable thing in the Germinator has been the hands-on guidance and mentoring with real concrete insight from industry on how to build a food business case, not just theoretical lectures from people who have never worked in the industry. Other key benefits are networking possibilities, and sharing experiences and progress stories with the other teams, says Anton Nolvi, COO-to-be of the OleoFlow team.

Indeed, on top of industry learnings, OleoFlow has reaped the benefits of the Germinator by getting acquainted with both interested investors and experienced CEO candidates, which the team needs in the next phase of their development journey.  

Food System transformation as a joint target

Viikki Food Design Factory’s purpose is to accelerate the necessary food system transformation at hand. The VFDF Germinator programme does this by speeding up the learning process of the innovator teams on their commercialization path from science to the markets. In this task, the collaboration with established food and agri sector companies is vital. 

One of VFDF Germinator’s sponsor-mentor companies is the agricultural cooperative Lantmännen, which is among Northern Europe's leading companies in agriculture, machinery, bioenergy and food products.

- Viikki Food Design Factory’s Germinator is a very interesting opportunity for cooperation for Lantmännen. We strongly believe in diverse networks in building sustainable food systems for the future. It's exciting that the programme allows for new kinds of encounters between our product development and sourcing experts and start-ups, says Nina Tuomikangas, Innovation Project Manager, Lantmännen Group R&D.  

The first Germinator pre-incubator programme ran from October 2021 to April 2022 with a batch of  four innovator teams: Oleo, NATINREC, Mäsli and Compact Growth. The programme will finnish with a demo session and gala organized in conjunction with the opening event of Viikki Food Design Factory’s brand-new premises in Viikki campus on the 21st of April. The programme feedback from the four teams has been inspiring: 

- “Great job! Let's hope you can make this a permanent program!”

- “Great program! We've been really enjoying it and felt that we've gained a lot.”

- “Keep up the good work! Also many thanks to Tiia being so structured with all the organising :) “ 

- “Keep up the good work and take this thing to the next level. You are needed.” 

Hence, we are thrilled to announce that VFDF’s Germinator programme’s second call for teams with food system transforming solutions will take place in May and commence in August 2022.

If you are interested in applying to the Germinator or joining the food system transformation as a sponsor-mentor for the teams, contact us for further details: 

Laura Forsman, Viikki Food Design Factory Manager, laura.forsman@helsinki.fi 

Tiia Pelkonen, Viikki Food Design Factory Project Planner, tiia.pelkonen@helsinki.fi