This year marks the hundredth year since the establishment of Valio's first research laboratory, which began operations at Kalevankatu, in the centre of Helsinki, in March 1917. Valio's R&D has evolved in step with Finland, which is celebrating its hundredth year of independence this year.
At the time, Valio's Board of Directors justified the establishment of the research lab as follows:
“Only a country whose entire economy is based on science can achieve and retain first place in the economic battle between nations. The advancement of the dairy sector requires science as much as any other sector.”
“The importance of research and product development has not diminished in a hundred years. Unique innovations are still the cornerstones of not only Valio's success, but the success of Finland as a whole”, says Tuomas Salusjärvi, Valio's Executive Vice President in charge of product groups, brands, and research and development.
World-class innovations in the footsteps of “A.I. Virtanen”
In 1919, Valio's laboratory served as the location where Artturi Ilmari Virtanen – a chemist who was to become one of the most well-known Finnish scientists – began his life's work. With no compromises on quality and with a firm focus on scientific collaboration, A.I. Virtanen led the laboratory from 1921 onwards, for nearly 50 years. Of Virtanen's inventions, AIV fodder and AIV salt, in particular, were revolutionary, and Virtanen’s inventions led to him receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1945.
Following in the footsteps of A.I. Virtanen, Valio's R&D unit has developed a number of world-class innovations over the decades. The most significant of these, even on a global scale, include the lactose-free Valio Eila® technology and the Valio Gefilus® product technology, based on the most widely researched lactic acid bacterium, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG.
Well-being and responsibility guide product development
“Well-being is the key to everything”, said the Nobel laureate Virtanen with regard to the direction in which Valio's product range developed in its early days. Indeed, Valio has actively monitored, studied and solved global nutrition issues. At the beginning of the 2000s, Valio gained recognition as a pioneer of functional foods. Valio's most recent innovations – such as Valio ValSa® milk salt and the company's snacks with lower sugar content – are also responses to global nutritional challenges.
“Valio's ambition is to be the most responsible dairy in the world. Valio's R&D unit is also looking for innovative solutions on the responsibility front throughout the entire production chain – from field to table. The continuously developing environmental friendliness of the entire chain, healthy animals and healthy, yet tasty, foodstuffs are the focus of our research strategy. They must also continue to be the focal areas of our research and product development activities in the years to come”, says Salusjärvi.
Valio's new patented invention, for instance, enables more efficient utilisation of the nutrients in slurry when it is processed into water, fertiliser fractions and biogas. Using slurry as a fertiliser gets easier, nutrient cycling becomes more efficient, and the runoff of nutrients decreases. Biogas can be used in the production of electricity and heat or as a traffic fuel.
Valio introduces some 100 new products to the Finnish market every year. The company holds 351 patents in 50 patent families in 50 countries. In 2016, Valio spent EUR 26.5 million on research, product development and quality assurance.