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The Finns’ Favourite Pet Food Is Made in Kolmenkulma

Pet food company Vafo Finland launched its new production facility in Kolmenkulma, Nokia, in April 2023. Vafo’s warehouses move to the same lot by the end of the year. Moving to Nokia is a part of the company’s strategic expansion and corporate responsibility measures.

– ECO3 business park in Kolmenkulma is an interesting location for our new plant. We keep a close eye on the businesses there now and in the future. We might have a lot of cooperation possibilities with the circular economy companies in the area, says Timo Pärssinen, the CEO of Vafo Finland.

According to CEO Timo Pärssinen, Vafo Finland aims to invest even more in green production and sustainable development. Expanding their domestic production is a step towards that.

Corporate responsibility has a strong impact in the pet food business

Vafo Finland was founded in 2021, when the Czech Vafo Group acquired Finnish Prima Pet Premium pet food product company. Pärssinen is also the CEO of Prima Pet Premium.

The companies are both part of Vafo Group, but their operations are divided so that Vafo Finland is responsible for producing pet food and Prima Pet Premium handles the importing and wholesale business.

Pärssinen sees pet food as a steady and growing business that is not very vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy.

– Pet food business normally follows the same trends as food business overall. For example, gluten-free was a general food trend about ten years ago, and it showed in pet food about five years ago.

At the moment Pärssinen sees corporate responsibility goals, pertaining to curtailing emissions and sustainable development, as having the strongest impact in the business.

– It may mean for example using insect proteins in pet food, but mainly it is using recyclable packaging, using alternative energy sources such as solar power and biogas wisely in production, and having our order and supply chains in order.

The new factory in Nokia represents advancing these responsibility- and sustainability-related themes for Vafo. The pressure for change is partly external.

– The retail chains that sell pet food have made their own environmental pledges and set their carbon neutrality goals. We have to be in on those as a supplier. Up until now, for example CO2-compensated brands and labels containing insect protein have been rarities in pet food, but soon they will become mainstream. Our production has to be up to the standards to reach the corporate responsibility goals.

– Consumers nowadays also appreciate that the food is made in Finland using pure ingredients. Our pet food produced in Czech is produced in plants with strict certifications, but moving the production to Finland guarantees that the process itself is more environmentally friendly.

– Strictly speaking, then we don’t have to haul product from various different places. At the same time, we support our domestic market. We aim to use Finnish and local ingredients as much as possible.

The best-known Vafo brand has deep roots in Finland

The best-known Finnish brands owned by Vafo are Hau-Hau Champion and PrimaCat, and they have been produced since the fifties. These are really the brands that led to the founding of the original company in the late nineties.

Hau-Hau Champion and PrimaCat were originally owned by Saarioinen, but in the nineties they decided to concentrate on their main consumer products, and the brands were sold to Prima Pet Premium that had been just founded. Due to Finland’s membership in the European Union, the bulk of pet food production shifted to European countries where it was more cost-effective.

Hau-Hau Champion will be the first brand to be produced in the new factory. It is still the best-known dog food brand in Finland. The business deal and subsequent expansion in production makes it possible for the brand, so familiar to Finnish pet owners, to return to domestic production.

Following Hau-Hau Champion, the factory begins to produce other Vafo Group brands, all in all 16 different ones.

– Making brands that aren’t sold in Finland will remain in Czech. However, our private label products will be made here, Pärssinen says.

Agile operations in a recession-proof business

Before the 2021 business deal, various offers for buying Prima Pet Premium had been made.

– We got several probes every year if we were up to selling. The business is of interest to investors, because it is known to be a sure bet even during a recession. In addition, our growth has been strong. When I started in the company in 2009, our annual turnover was five million euros. Last year it was over 43 million.

The current owner is an old acquaintance of Pärssinen.

– We have known Vafo Group for over ten years, as they have been one of our main suppliers. Vafo is owned by a single individual, so you could say that Prima Pet Premium got a familiar and safe new master with the sale, Pärssinen says.

Globally small but big in Finland

Pet diet has changed radically over the last decades. Previously in Finland, pets were given mainly leftovers from the dinner table, but nowadays pet owners want to invest in their furry family members and provide them with high-quality food. The amount of euros spent on pets is also radically bigger.

– We are happy that we are in a business that is growing and developing, Timo Pärssinen says.

Pärssinen sees that actors such as Vafo have a stronger foothold in the pet food business in the future.

– We are a relatively new and agile operator compared to global industry giants such as Nestle and Mars. That means that we can react to global trends and customer needs faster and create new kinds of products. The global giants aren’t flexible enough to do that.

Vafo’s market position in Finland is already good. Pärssinen estimates that the company is the second largest pet food manufacturer in Finland. They welcome competition.

– Our domestic competitors are mainly small and concentrated on niche markets, but we welcome all kinds of competition. After all, we mainly concentrate on our own thing and don’t follow where others are going.

Published 4.4.2023.