Nestlé of Finland
Our third day in Helsinki started with a visit to Nestlé of Finland. We meet with Peka, head of sales and Ansi, the account manager. They provided an overview of Nestlé’s operations in Finland and the connection to the overall multinational company. Nestlé has a diversified model in which local product preferences are maintained and often produced in country. Much of its success is based on properly evaluating mergers, acquisitions, and separations based upon product success and demand. Peka and Ansi stressed that in a competitive environment, such as that in which Nestlé operates, the company must continue to grow and innovate or it will fail.
Several other topics were either discussed or discovered from informal research. Nestlé’s Alliance for Youth is a push to bring in highly qualified and talented new employees who are recent graduates. In many European workforces, the influence of seniority can cause a disproportionate aging of the workforce. . This retains valuable experience but can also have a stifling effect on change and innovation. The Alliance for Youth is a European attempt to mediate this phenomenon and bring more balance and diversity to companies.
Another aspect involving Nestlé is the introduction of EU nutrition guidelines. This can be alternatively seen as an assurance of future health or a governmental overreach. Additionally, if companies like Nestlé are involved in the writing of such guidelines, care must be taken to focus on community health and not be unduly influenced by the company’s own sales interests. This topic also ties into questions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) which Nestlé terms Creating Shared Value. The concept deals with equitable sourcing of materials and fair labor practices. Ansi and Peka both spoke highly of Nestlé’s CSR practices but admitted that they have had trouble consistently communicating their commitments in the marketplace.
We also spoke about a past incident involving the Maggi brand of instant noodles sold in India. Reports surfaced of lead contamination within the products but after a review of Nestlé’s extensive quality control system, the problem was deemed to be fabricated, possibly by a local government official seeking bribery money from the company. Even without an actual quality problem, Nestlé is still working to rebuild trust in the Maggie brand.
Of current note is an EU sugar tax which was allegedly levied to drive consumer behavior towards healthier foods. At issue, however, was a disparity where some sugary foods such as ice cream were included in the tax while others such as cakes and cookies were not. Advocates argued that because different EU countries manufactured sugar-filled products of different types, the EU tax disproportionately affected some countries more than others. The EU agreed and is set to repeal the tax in 2017. This is significant for Nestlé because 30% of their Finland sales are from ice cream, all of which was included in the tax.
As we were closing, Peka summed up Nestlé’s relationship to Finland in what I thought was a beautifully succinct way. He said the Finns enjoy three things above all others: coffee, ice cream, and cognac. Nestlé of Finland produces two of the three.
Crossing the Gulf of Finland
Following our meeting with Nestlé, we returned to our hotel to claim our bags and departed for the ferry that would take us from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. Several companies run ferries across the gulf to transport people and vehicles, including commercial trucks, between the two countries. Finns will often take the 90-minute voyage to shop in Estonia because of the lower tax rates. Alcohol, specifically, is often a reason for this trip. This has become such a common practice that Finland has passed a law disallowing import of drink from Estonia into Finland except for special occasions. This has naturally increased the number of special occasions that Finns enjoy.
While we were waiting to board the ferry, we struck up a conversation with an older man named Eugene. He was of Russian descent and traveling with his grandson. As we discussed informal matters, after learning of my medical training he mentioned that though he could receive healthcare in Finland for almost no cost, he instead had previously traveled to St. Petersburg for treatment of a partial heart blockage and gallbladder problems. He told us that he did not want to wait on the Finnish system and felt they will only treat conditions once they become life-threatening. He told a story of a relative with back pain and who was coughing up blood. He said the Finnish doctors sent her away with only pain medication and without doing a proper battery of tests. She was later diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer which was not effectively treatable. While I have no way of verifying this account or of judging how representative this story is of others’ experiences, it at least indicates that not all of the Finnish population is satisfied with the state of their country’s socialized medical system.
After saying goodbye to Eugene and boarding the ferry, we enjoyed a relaxed cruise in comfort with food, drink, and entertainment. The ferries are the main form of transportation between Helsinki and Tallinn. The alternatives being an airline flight or a drive through Russia and the logistics required due to exiting and reentering the EU.
Following the cruise and checking into our hotel, we explored the Old Town of Tallinn before enjoying a late dinner at a medieval themed restaurant. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and currently serves as both a tourist attraction and a functional city center. Some of the buildings have origins from the 1400s. The contrast of that degree of history and modern commerce is somewhat discordant, but encourages a vital draw of visitors to the country.