Food connects people, cultures and nations. As they say, "the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach". Food Diplomacy is an excellent tool to increase cross-cultural understanding. Finnish diplomats have also done their share of Food Diplomacy throughout history in the countries where they have been stationed. However, this is not always easy, as Finnish foods are not widely available everywhere in the world.
So how can we bring more Finnish products available at the Embassy events? The Agricultural Counsellor of Finland in South Africa, Jenni Kiilholma, contacted Esa Wrang from Food from Finland program, and it turned out, that discussion around the topic was going on already. Food from Finland together with chef Kim Palhus from Tarinapata Oy had already created a concept but were lacking an Embassy to work with and to test the concept.
Pearl of the Nordic Kitchen, the PONK project:
The way of showcasing Finnish food and beverage products together with our Embassies around the world by building channels to bring Finnish food & beverage offering available and by creating menus based on offering available.
Chef Kim Palhus, Tarinapata, creator of PONK concept
Ambassador of Finland to South Africa, Anne Lammila, with her team signed up to be the first to test the concept and receive the shipment of selected Finnish foods.
Both Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry acknowledge the importance of Food Diplomacy, and decided to join forces to fund the pilot to South Africa.
The Ambassador's idea was to start pilot with by offering an authentic Finnish culinary experience to the 150 guests at the Independence Day reception. Due to Omicron variant all bigger events in South Africa were cancelled, but The Embassy was able to organize few smaller events instead. One of them was "Fancy Finnish Food" event organised in a beautiful Finnish wooden house on the slopes of Constantia wine lands in Western Cape. In addition, several smaller luncheons and dinners were organised.
Originally there was a group of 25 companies and that was shrank to 10 due to tight schedule. As this was a pilot, the companies were selected according to the product wishes from the Embassy and the experience of Food from Finland. The list of items to be sent was finalized together with the Embassy chef Jade Klaasen and chef Palhus.
The feedback from guests was without exception positive. The guests were in awe that such exclusive high-end foods was served to them. In South Africa, especially the wild fish, berries, spirits, bread and the oat "rice" received praise. In hindsight, and to consider for the next shipment, it is essential to have adequate amount of time to get more companies on board, as well as to find the most efficient way of transportation.
The Finnish diplomatic network is spread to 91 locations in the world, so in itself the network is a considerable client. Ultimately, however, it is envisioned, that the future shipments will be arranged with a commercial partner in the countries where the Embassies reside, and in this way increase the commercial significance to the companies.
The next steps for the concept, is to start spreading it further to the global Embassy network. The plan is to conduct a questionnaire among Embassies this spring and based on the results, the destination for the next shipment or shipments will be decided.
What is more crucial to the success of the concept's future, is the interest and commitment of the Finnish food and beverage companies. And once the Embassies are on board, the idea is to give companies an opportunity to work with the Embassy network via commercial platform. Besides events planned by the Embassies, the concept also gives an opportunity to companies send samples and other material and suggest specific meetings with relevant stakeholders in the markets around the world.
The Embassy of Finland in Pretoria was extremely satisfied with the outcome of the pilot. The Ambassador as well as the Agricultural Counsellor can personally recommend going further with this more strategic approach to Food Diplomacy. They cannot wait for more products to come available and to continue deepening the relationship between South Africa and Finland with the help of the delicious Finnish food.
Jenni Kiilholma, Agricultural Counsellor, Embassy of Finland in Pretoria
jenni.kiilholma (at) formin.fi
Kim Palhus, Tarinapata
kim.palhus (at) tarinapata.fi
Photos @igor_potgieter and @lulas_lens