Biolan: R&D for a greener world

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti, Photos: Julia Hannula

When Biolan was established in 1974 as a subsidiary of the broiler-production company Kariniemi, the initiative came from the need to find new uses for the chicken manure that the parent company’s production process. After coming up with different ideas, the company introduced dehydrated, granulated chicken manure as a natural fertiliser. Over the decades, there have been plenty of other ideas that have been converted into products and, today, the Biolan group is engaged in the development of a greener world in a group comprising a number of companies across several product sectors.

The name Biolan is derived from the Finnish words for biological fertilisation. Teppo Rantanen, Biolan’s Managing Director, describes the name as a stroke of luck.
“The name is logical and it works in an international context. It is relatively easy to pronounce and write, no matter which language you speak, and it sticks in your mind,” he continues.

Teppo Rantanen © Julia Hannula

Biolan is in a weather-dependent business. Managing Director Teppo Rantanen hopes that spring days will be chilly and sunny with little rain, so that people will be happy to spend a little more time with their gardening chores.

The company’s first steps in the fertiliser market in the 1970s were challenging, until a large investment in television advertising spread the awareness of their products in the blink of an eye. The advertisement was so successful that it was used over several years and many of the 1970s and 1980s children still know the jingle by heart.
“An advertising agency from Tampere came up with the idea of a significant investment in television advertising. Hannes Kariniemi, the founder of Biolan, had some player in him and he decided to take a risk that paid off,” Rantanen explains.

Growth and new products

The company began to grow and the product portfolio expanded. In the 1980s, a new market segment was conquered with the planting base business.
“Biolan Musta Multa compost, another one of our iconic products, was introduced to the market. I reckon it is the most recognised single brand name in the Finnish garden and plant compost market, and probably the top-selling product, too. However, there are no exact figures, because there are a lot of brands and the stores’ own brands have added to the mixed collection.”

Biolan Musta Multa

In the early 1980s, Biolan developed their first frame for compostable garden waste – the company’s first composter.
“We also came up with the Finnish term for composter, which spread from a product name to general use.”

There is a similar product still on the market, but the size has grown from 700 litres to 1,000 litres. Biolan sells and markets composters that are produced in Eura, on the opposite side of the road, in the facilities of Favorit Tuote that belongs to the same cluster of companies.
We also developed a more refined, heat-insulated Biolan quick composter mostly for the purpose of composting household and food waste. It is probably the most widely sold model in Finland.”

Ari Nummela © Julia Hannula

Ari Nummela makes sure that all goes well in the packing process of Biolan summer plant compost in the Eura production facility.

Environmental products and international growth

The Biolan product portfolio has expanded and now covers other environmental products, such as dry toilets and compostable toilets and waste water systems. In Finland, the subsidiary, Biolan Ekoasuminen Ltd focuses on the development, marketing and sales of ecological dwelling solutions.
“There are eight models available in the toilet product portfolio, most of them manufactured in Eura. We also have a subsidiary in China, where models suitable for the Asian market are produced. Of course, we also import the suitable ones to the European market.”

“The company is seeking to enter the local Chinese market with consumer products and it looks likely that this will be soon achieved.”

Rantanen was involved in the launch of the operations in China, when Biolan Suzhou Co. Ltd was established in 2008–2010.
“Most of the turnover of Biolan Suzhou originates from the internal contract manufacturing of the group. The company is seeking to enter the local Chinese market with consumer products and it looks likely that this will be soon achieved.”

The sales of the quick composter have sky-rocketed by 400 per cent.
“The volumes are still not super high, but we are starting to feel the growth of the demand in the Chinese market here in Eura already, both in the production and the design phase.”

Projects abound

Biolan clarified its operations in 2014 by reorganising the companies into different categories: professional farming, consumer products and contract manufacturing. Professional farming operations had already been reorganised as the task of the subsidiary Novarbo that focuses primarily on products for greenhouse farming.
“In practice, the products are different kinds of peat-based mixes of which a little over 80 per cent are exported.” Contributing to the reorganisation of the companies was the development process of a greenhouse climate management system that Biolan had initiated. The goal was to bring together all the relevant operations in a single company.

Kasvualustaseoksen pakkauslinja

A baling press pressing the export package of a planting base mix with product information printed in 14 languages.

Novarbo owns a small share of Local Greens, a Finnish company that is about to start lettuce cultivation in Florida, USA.
“This region has a very challenging climate. Vegetable farming is difficult, because of the high temperatures and humidity. Most of the vegetables are brought over from Mexico, California and Canada. Local Greens seeks to increase the volume of local farming, using the climate control system we have developed.

“When sphagnum moss is collected, the water resources of the peatland are not meddled with and no ditches are dug, so the peatland will regenerate very quickly.”

Novarbo is the primary owner of EcoMoss Oy that has developed a machine for collecting sphagnum moss from the top layer of peatland.
“We plan to use sphagnum moss in products that correspond to the planting peat mix that we already make. There are also ongoing product development projects in order to develop completely new types of planting base products.

When living sphagnum moss is collected from the top layer of a peatland, there is no need to drain and dehydrate the peatland like in the peat-production process. This means that the nature of a peatland is not lost.
“When sphagnum moss is collected, the water resources of the peatland are not meddled with and no ditches are dug, so the peatland will regenerate very quickly.” All moss is never collected from the top layer, instead some is picked here and there so that a new growth of moss will quickly fill in the area that was collected. We are dealing with a genuinely renewable material.”

Kalle Isoheiko © Julia Hannula

Production line operator Kalle Isoheiko operates the Novarbo packing line. The Biolan group employs a total of around 140 staff members, 85 of whom are located in Eura in various production and office tasks.

Advanced operation

Biolan values include progress, responsibility and fairness, competence, development and positivity.
“Progress has been in an important role at all times, and it is reflected in our research and development.”

Biolanin konttorirakennus Eurassa

The Biolan office building, a fine piece of experimental architecture, was completed in Eura in 2010. With its completion, people from four office buildings moved in under one roof.

According to Rantanen, Hannes Kariniemi – the founder of the company – and his son, Pekka are largely to thank for the enthusiastic approach to development.
“Pekka Kariniemi is, at present, the Chair of the Board, and he has always had a sense of boyish excitement for new ideas and assumed a very open approach to all new ideas that have been proposed. Considering the size of the company, we have always allocated quite a lot of resources in the development of new concepts.

“The world is turning digital and we have to be a part of the development.”

There is a constant strive for creating new products. The next leap to take is digitalisation.
“The contents of a compost bag will not turn digital just yet, but maybe the package will. Digital features will be most relevant to the product folios of Novarbo, ecological dwelling and eco-toilets. The world is turning digital and we have to take part in the development.

Biolanin konttorin aula

Positivity is one of Biolan’s values. You can also sense it in the company’s unique office building, where the employees come together to have breakfast and lunch in the attractive lobby space.  

It seems they are pretty hungry for growth and development.
“When it comes to the fertilisers and planting bases used in home gardens, creating sky-rocketing growth is unlikely, but there is still room in the markets of free-time housing, eco-sanitation, waste management and composting. Especially in the countries around us. In a nutshell, I could say that the majority of our future growth will be generated outside Finland.