Even in its short history, Ketoinen Oy, specializing in grain-free bakery products, has managed to achieve some notable accomplishments and work with major partners. The company stands on a firm foundation also when it comes to international growth.
Ketoinen is a bakery startup whose incredible growth has taken even its founders by surprise. The growth was initially driven by Kesko, who immediately added the grain-free pilot product to their selection. After this, S Group also wanted the product and the company is currently negotiating several new cooperation agreements, mainly in the HoReCa sector. The health-promoting product is also being introduced to hospitals, schools and assisted living facilities in several cities.
“Our biggest leap forward was opening the biggest grain-free bakery in the Nordic countries in Kuopio. Until then, we had baked all our products by hand. Building the production facility went without a hitch in cooperation with great partners,” says CEO Niina-Marika Lahnavik-Hoffren.
Setting up the bakery in Kuopio was a no-brainer for the founders. The city has always been there to help entrepreneurs and all the three founders also have small children, so they do not want to be far away from home. In addition to Lahnavik-Hoffren, the other founding shareholders are Anni Hoffren and Nanna Mononen. Niina-Marika also runs the King’s Crown restaurant with her sister-in-law Anni, whereas Nanna has experience in working as an entrepreneur in her company Kakkutaide. A number of prominent investors have joined the Ketoinen team, inspired by its growth.
What first sparked the story of Ketoinen was the coronavirus pandemic, which caused restaurant closures, but the biggest factor was Lahnavik-Hoffren’s personal need for a healing grain product. Two years earlier, she had given birth to a daughter in what was a very difficult delivery that almost took her life. A couple years later, Lahnavik-Hoffren’s body was still not functioning as well as it should and her hormones were all over the place.
“I was told that I have an extremely rare condition affecting the pituitary gland, Sheehan’s syndrome, which caused hormonal imbalance. I had heard that a ketogenic diet might help with hormone disorders so I decided to give it a try with my doctor’s permission. I started baking bread myself, because it was not sold anywhere, and I noticed that a low-carbohydrate diet made me feel a lot better,” says Lahnavik-Hoffren.
Lahnavik-Hoffren and Anni Hoffren originally came up with grain-free bread to make up for the loss in restaurant revenue due to COVID, but the idea took off like a rocket as an independent product. In addition to grain-free loaf, the selection currently includes two types of buns, a bagel and, the latest addition, a grain-free pizza crust whose popularity propelled the company to new heights.
Inspired by a genuine need, the health-promoting product has also sparked the interest of nutrition specialists at the Kuopio University Hospital and professors of nutrition and neurology at the University of Eastern Finland. Several doctors specializing in gastroenterology, diabetes and brain health also recognize the health effects of Ketoinen products.
“The ketogenic diet is also a trend, but we want to focus on promoting health. The recently launched FOODNUTRI project, led by the University of Helsinki, will study the health benefits of our breads. Other research projects are also being planned. Low-carb products are important for people suffering from epilepsy, for example,” says Lahnavik-Hoffren.
The products made by Ketoinen could be described as hybrid products as they contain both fibre and protein in the same package. Product development is currently underway to cater to the needs of the Finnish Defence Forces. Lahnavik-Hoffren laughs as she mentions that guys could survive a week in the forest on their product alone. It repairs the body and is the perfect product for the army also in terms of its nutritional value.
The success story of Ketoinen sounds almost too good to be true, but the company has also faced some challenges. They regretted having to cancel the first distribution agreement they made with the international Lantmännen Unibake. The agreement did not bring in as much sales as they had hoped for, so Ketoinen took distribution in its own hands.
Ketoinen is now in the process of negotiating internationalization, a process in which Sweden is the strongest candidate, followed by Denmark, Norway and Germany. There has also been talk of the USA, but that would require major investments. Lahnavik-Hoffren is grateful for the support that the company has received: the Team Finland network has been very helpful and the biggest helpers in the Kuopio region have been the ELY Centre and Finnvera.
“Even the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has been in touch to say that they’re there for us.”
Partnership negotiations are underway with a big global giant that is also a major name in Finland. In addition, one of the largest pizza chains in Finland is planning to launch the Ketoinen grain-free pizza crust this year.
Lahnavik-Hoffren is amazed at how much has already happened and how well their products have been received. They have been told how important their products are, for example in the hospital sector. This inspires the belief that something quite unique is happening here.
The company has been hard pressed for money in its first few years – growth requires money. The other option would have been to take smaller steps forward, but the founders did not feel this was the right approach. According to Lahnavik-Hoffren, a good financial manager and an accountant are crucial for a growing company. They are the two key factors on the road to success. It is also worth keeping in mind that you should not go along with everything.
“Trust your instincts and stand behind your words. We have had some investor candidates who have valued themselves higher than the other investors. In these cases, we have kept our cool, even if the offer has sounded good. We place everyone on the same line when it comes to money – this way, we don’t run into any difficulties,” says Lahnavik-Hoffren, summarizing the company’s approach.
CEO of Ketoinen Oy Niina-Marika Lahnavik-Hoffren sees the Kuopio Health ecosystem as a great platform that provides networks for conducting research. The Kuopio Region Chamber of Commerce has also offered their help from the very beginning.
“Kaija Savolainen and Jari Osmala at the Chamber have been particularly helpful. Not only have they given us advice, they have also gotten their hands dirty, as it were, when our company was just getting started. Osmala also decided to invest in the company himself, which was a truly great honour,” says Lahnavik-Hoffren with gratitude.
Text: Minna Akiola