THIS FINNISH ENTREPRENEUR AND CHOCOLATIER WANTS FOOD BUSINESSES TO BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR PUBLIC HEALTH
Jukka Peltola worked in the gaming industry before launching a food brand. He was busy developing games at Rovio, the powerhouse that created Angry Birds. He had no experience in food nor a co-founder who was steeped in the food business. But he decided to switch gears, leaving behind his gaming days for a chocolate factory. Why such a dramatic career shift?
More companies need to focus on trust and quality ingredients that are good for consumers, not just bottom line economics, he says. Health, not disease is the premise of Goodio, which produces health-conscious snacks and treats, namely raw chocolate bars.
“I was looking at food labels and had a question: “What if there was a food brand you could trust?” he recalls in an phone interview from his Helsinki offices. “It felt a bit crazy, at least for the people around me, since I don’t have an entrepreneurship background in the food business. But personally I didn’t care, I just had a passion and I thought it might be my advantage to see things outside the box to make the change I felt was so important.”
In 2011, he began tinkering with chocolate. “I rarely ate chocolate because I was interested in sports and keeping fit. I thought it wasn’t good for you. Turns out it can be.”
As a health food enthusiast, Peltola researched the benefits of cacao -- an ingredient that is often overlooked as being gluttonous, not nutritious. Though chocolate sales fetched $98 billion in 2015, they were primarily for the sugary candy type.
Yet raw cacao itself has been regarded as an Amazonian superfood, high in antioxidants (even more so than berries). Some researchers claim that it can reduce blood pressure and encourage blood flow as well as provide iron. The plant is still grown primarily near the equator: originating in the Amazon, and then domesticated by the Mayans and Aztecs before being hauled across the Atlantic to Africa by European travelers. It’s not only a health food but a serious cash crop for nearly 6 million farmers. The Ivory Coast, for instance, produces 40 percent of the world’s cocoa and cacao farming is a primary source of income for farmers in the country.
Peltola, a Finn residing in Helsinki, had little expertise on agriculture in the tropics. But he was convinced that an ethically-sourced raw chocolate brand could work: working directly with cacao farmers, formulating bars that kept sugar content low, and relying solely on raw cacao, not the processed variety commonly found in supermarkets. It took nearly a year to find the right ingredients, the necessary machinery, and the space to produce chocolate. In 2013, he began production in Helsinki.
Peltola is not shy about his ambitions: “We’re trying to make the best chocolate in the world.” But his definition of best, he says, is what distinguishes him from the big brands, selling sugar-laden, processed bars.
“The way I see the best is a combination of optimizing the health, transparency, righteousness and ecology along with mind-blowing taste and mesmerizing look.”
With a €15,000 subsidy and a €35,000 loan from the Finnish government, Peltola launched the company. From there on, it was all bootstrapped, tapping into his personal savings. "During the more challenging times, we ate some chocolate. Luckily, the chocolate we ate was the best you can get," he jokes.
Three years in, now with two additional business partners, he’s crossed €1 million in sales. Much of that profit has been pumped back into the business. Goodio is expanding rapidly, making itself available beyond Scandinavia. Last year, they launched sales in the US, UK, and in Hong Kong.
Consequently, the team has grown to 10 full time employees and 10 part-time. But even in the growth, there is a continued focus on transparency and giving back. The staff consist of individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds with limited job opportunities. “We have hired people that have had hard times to find work elsewhere. In our business, we are all equal,” he says.
Peltola and his team are looking at redefining every aspect of the traditional business model: the ingredients of the product with an emphasis on health; the staff with an emphasis on inclusivity; the supply chain with an emphasis on fair-trade and direct sourcing; and the packaging with an emphasis on recycled materials and low waste. In March, he'll be visiting Peru to meet cacao farmers in Maranon Canyon, and then subsequently to Haiti, Nicaragua and the DRC to meet with their other suppliers in this bean-to-bar movement.
Back in Helsinki, Peltola is on the hunt for a new production facility. He isn’t looking for a cookie cutter warehouse. Rather, he wants to transform the production facility into a yoga studio and gym, which can generate energy for the manufacturing unit, making it more sustainable while promoting fitness.
We want a "fundamental transformation in food business and consumption that in the near future, our food will promote health, not disease," Peltola iterates. "More companies should really think about the well-being of their customers when making a profit." he says.