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News 24.10.2022

Japan Buyer Tour opened the doors to Japan for Finnish bioeconomy companies – everything begins with networking

The Japan Buyer Tour arranged at the end of August brought two major Japanese companies to Finland to get to know Finnish bioeconomy and natural products companies. The buyers’ trip, coordinated by Business Finland, opened important doors for Finnish companies to Japan, which is fervently looking for new bio-based solutions to replace the use of plastics in the packaging industry.

The visit was a unique opportunity for small and innovative Finnish companies seeking international growth to network face-to-face with large Japanese companies. In Japan, all business-to-business transactions are based on personal relationships – and preferably in Japanese.

A strong Finnish brand supports exports in the bioeconomy sector

Japan is the second largest source of plastic waste per person in the world after the United States. Some change to this distinction is desired, and the country already published a new national strategy to reduce the use of plastics in 2019. The strategy was supplemented in 2022 by a statute that is binding on companies. Measures include reducing the use of throw-away plastic in consumer products, innovative packaging design, plastic recycling and the introduction of biomass-based plastic products.

This is where Finnish expertise in bioeconomy and packaging industry solutions comes in. Finland is already known in Japan for its strong natural values and purity, and increasingly for its circular economy know-how. Japan is therefore well prepared to receive significant bioeconomy innovations from Finland in the footsteps of the Moomins. But first, buyers and sellers must face each other.

Business Finland is an important intermediary

“Business Finland operates in Tokyo at the Embassy of Finland. In Japan, this is particularly important, as embassies are appreciated. Business Finland is perceived in Japan as a reliable and impartial party that provides information on Finnish expertise and organizes meetings with Finnish companies,” says Inka-Liisa Häkälä, senior advisor at Business Finland Japan.

“We regularly receive inquiries from Japanese companies regarding what Finland has to offer in relation to bioeconomy and biomaterials.”

Häkälä, who has now been living in Japan for eight years, speaks and writes fluent Japanese, which has also been supported by studies at a local university. To understand the content of a newspaper alone, you need to know 2,000 characters. In Japan, companies like to do business in the local language.

Japanese companies who participated in the August Buyer Tour paid for their own trips and participation, which also reflects a strong interest in Finnish companies. The role of Business Finland was to plan and coordinate the event, organize company visits and an interpretation service, and assist with other arranged activities during the week.


Plastic substitutes from brewing industry waste

Kondo Shoten is a Japanese importer of plastics and other materials. The company is actively seeking new solutions for its industrial and consumer product customers, including sustainable bio-based products to replace the use of plastics.

The representatives of Kondo Shoten were particularly impressed by Granulous (The Boreal Project Oy), a recent startup in the bioplastics sector from Sotkamo. The company manufactures a compostable plastic substitute from the side streams of the food industry.

Granulous bio-composite is made from waste from the brewing industry, i.e., from used grain, of which millions of tons is generated per year worldwide.

Founded in 2020, Granulous won the title of the most interesting innovation at the PacTec, FoodTec & PlastExpo Nordic Fair in Helsinki in spring 2022.

“Together with VTT, we set out to develop a bio-based plastic substitute that decomposes in home compost conditions. The raw material of our product is 40% grain fiber, can be used with existing molds in the plastics industry and can be used in the early stage to make so-called ‘short life cycle products’, such as dishwashing brushes and toothbrushes,” says Joonas Sirviö, one of the founders and the managing director of Granulous.

“Our meeting with Kondo Shoten in August went very well, and our top priority now is to get the test materials going. We know that the company has already contacted its partners in Japan. Without the meeting and networks made possible by Business Finland, we would not have been able to present our product on the Japanese market under this schedule.”

Biobased plastic substitutes have great potential in Japan, as the country is lagging behind other Western countries in terms of bioeconomy. Globally, only 9% of plastic waste is properly recycled, and the production of recycled plastic represents only 6% of total plastic production.

“Business Finland knows our needs very well. They have introduced us to many interesting bioeconomy companies and increased our understanding of the Finnish economy and Finnish expertise in general. There is high demand for new biomaterials and different alternatives to replace virgin plastic in the packaging industry in Japan,” says  Yoshito Ota from Kondo Shoten.

Representatives of Kondo Shoten were also invited to visit the local Citymarket supermarket.

“Our visit to the Finnish supermarket showed how widely different bioplastics, paper-based and recycled plastic products have replaced the use of plastic in food and consumer product packaging, for example. We see the potential of an actor like Granulous and their unique solution to produce plastic substitutes from the side streams of the food industry. We follow the further development of the product with great interest,” Ota continues.

Finnish-branded organic consumer products

Another Japanese company that visited Finland was Kobayashi Seiyaku. It is a large daily consumer goods company, which produces, for example, cosmetics, detergents, food and small home interior decoration products.

Kobayashi Seiyaku is designing a consumer product related to the Finnish concept, for which they sought inspiration on a buyers’ trip to Finland.

Nordic Herbs Oy, which consumers know better in Finland as Yrttipaja, could be appropriately linked to the Finnish-oriented product launched by the company.

“Japanese companies’ interest in a company operating on the market for natural products like Nordic Herbs shows that the biotechnology sector can be seen as very multidisciplinary, i.e., it does not necessarily comprise the packaging industry exclusively. And this was also one of our goals in the company visits”,  shares Häkälä.

Nordic Herbs focus on the production, further processing and sale of wild harvested and naturally produced plants. The company sells various spice blends, herbal teas and bathing products and has the largest selection of individual herbs in Finland.

“It was a great opportunity to meet representatives of a company like Kobayashi Seiyaku in person and introduce them to our expertise in organic farming and natural products. We have already received great feedback from the Japanese team about our products. Although our potential cooperation only concerns a single consumer product, this is a great opening for us to get to know the Japanese market and consumers’ interest in the Finnish brand,” says Nordic Herbs Chief Commercial Officer Keir Cornelius .

The Finnish tradition of utilizing natural materials, craftsmanship and the kindness and authenticity conveyed by the Moomin brand are perceived as things that Kobayashi Sheiyaku’s representatives say support the entry of innovative Finnish companies into the Japanese market.

“In the Japan Buyer Tour, we were really impressed by the genuine desire of Finnish companies to find solutions to climate challenges. Companies did not simply just focus on their own short-term business. This made our visit to Finland completely different from our previous business meetings. We value partners with whom we can discuss challenges and find solutions to our problems together,” says Mai Morinaga from Kobayashi Seiyaku.

“At the end of the trip, we arranged for Kobayashi Seiyaku’s representatives to visit a Finnish summer cottage, where we got to know the real cottage life with berries, chopping wood and sauna bathing. I personally attended the cottage visit and saw how impressed our guests were with Finnish nature. I believe they picked up a lot of ideas for their upcoming project. In my opinion, this, too, showed how important it is to meet people in person and get to present our expertise and also our culture on the spot”, says Häkälä.

Interested in the opportunities Business Finland offers to expand into the Japanese market? Read Inka-Liisa Häkälä’s blog entry:

Japan is aiming towards greener packaging – possibilities for Finnish companies.

Further information

Inka-Liisa Häkälä
Senior Advisor, Business Finland Japan
inka-liisa.hakala (at)
Tel. +81 90 2228 9163