The coming together of 2 worlds
How CEO Janne Asikainen has combined his technical and creative skills to create a truly innovative food packaging solution
“You’re an artist. Here we do engineering. There is a place for you artists, but it is not here”
This was a sentiment often echoed by Janne’s colleagues in the packaging industry when he tried to explain his ideas for truly innovating packaging. Little did they realize that in Janne’s previous life, he had been (and still was) an engineer.
Watching his uncle run a crop and pig farm, Janne Asikainen had developed a passion for food at an early age. Farming was not for him though: it required long hours, hard work, and customers who were not willing to pay you that much for that hard work. So instead he got an engineering degree in food production technology and worked for over 5 years in various food & beverage manufacturing roles, ranging anywhere from dairy to wine making.
He enjoyed his work. However, there was still something missing from his life. He had a creative side of himself that he wanted to express: He wanted to truly innovate. Was there a way for him to be both an engineer and a designer? When his friend showed him his life working as an industrial designer, he realized that indeed there was a way. So he left his traditional life as an “engineer-only” behind and decided to remake himself into a new breed of both designer and engineer.
He now worked primarily with food packaging manufacturers. Once again he enjoyed his work initially, but soon became frustrated with the lack of innovation happening in the packaging industry. Often, a packaging manufacturer’s idea of “innovation” would be to add a new coating, change the sizing, or maybe modify a material here or there.
Janne, however, felt like this kind of incremental innovation was not enough. Sure, these incremental changes were needed, and it did have a small impact on our carbon footprint. But if we are truly going to combat climate change, we need to make much more dramatic changes to our approach. And that was how Janne ended up doing something he never thought he would do: he became an entrepreneur.
After Janne watched his uncle work tirelessly as an agricultural entrepreneur to keep their farm afloat, he was completely turned off from the idea of owning his own business. However, he was so frustrated with the packaging industry’s approach to innovation that when his former classmates and professor offered him a partnership with a small design agency, he took it.
“I didn’t know anything at all about being an entrepreneur. I had to learn everything from scratch”
There was still one missing link in Janne’s work that prevented him from feeling complete, however. In order to develop a packaging concept, there are 3 key players that are needed: the customer, the packaging manufacturer, and the design agency. As a design agency, their team would develop 100’s of concepts for the customer and leave it to the customer to deal with the packaging manufacturers. There was no follow-up from his team as to whether the solutions they came up with worked or not. Janne didn’t want to just design a package for customers and walk away, he wanted to really work with the clients to help ensure their success and make sure they were providing real solutions.
As a result, he ended up leaving the design agency started working side-by-side with some of Helsinki’s top chefs to help them design suitable packaging. They ended up creating an event catering company together to support it. It was an excellent opportunity for him to test and validate his ideas. Soon the work became too fast-paced, however, and he began doing more event logistics than actual packaging design. So he took a step back and decided to split the company into 2 parts: one would be an event catering company managed by the chefs, and the other would be a food packaging company managed by him, and that was how Koepala was born.
Koepala, unlike many other packaging companies, set out to do a whole new take on fast food packaging. He wanted to create takeaway food solutions that were both convenient and sustainable while still being economical. Inspired by a personal challenge he had trying to create a foldable pulkka (a type of Finnish winter sled) to go sleigh-riding, he created the Koepala Aterimo: a multi-functional, multi-purpose package that is 50% more sustainable than traditional takeaway packages.
“As I struggled to find a way to conveniently pack my pulkka, I thought to myself that the exact same challenges exist with modern day packaging, so why not try to solve both problems at the same time?”
Unlike traditional rigid packaging, Koepala’s Aterimo packaging is flat. This flat design makes it much easier and more convenient to transport, lowering logistics cost. Industrial food packers can fill the package while still maintaining a relatively flat shape. The relatively flat shape is also nice for consumers because they can easily place it into their bag or backpack without worrying about messy leaks or spills. Finally, when it comes time to eat, the package opens and transforms into a rigid container. It is the kind of packaging that is easy and economical to produce, easy to fill, easy to transport, and easy to eat from. For customers and food vendors alike, it is a win-win. It is such a cleverly designed package, in fact, that it has been awarded several design awards including (but not limited to) Packbridge Challenge 2017, Sodexo Vivatech Challenge 2018, European Social Innovation Challenge 2019, and most recently the EIT FAN Competition 2020.
In the future, Janne plans to continue to further develop his Aterimo packaging design and customize it for various applications. “It can be used for food, drinks, and everything in between” He explains excitedly to me. “The design can be used with a variety of materials, and used with a variety of food packaging technologies, so it can be easily incorporated into an existing packaging manufacturing system.” He is also excited to be a part of the EIT FAN Accelerator program, where he will continue to develop his business concept.
So the next time you are re-evaluating your food packing operations, instead of thinking rigid, think flat, flexible, and functional.
You can find out more information about Koepala, its products, and their custom design services at http://www.koepala.com/
More information on the EIT Fan program check out https://www.eitfan.eu/helsinki