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Professor Tiina Mattila-Sandholm, Valio: Businesses and researchers need to find each other in a new way

Paula Bergqvist | 15.1.2016

​According to Tiina Mattila-Sandholm, Finland would gain significant competitive edge if universities and research institutes were able to create genuine, in-depth research cooperation with businesses. All the required elements are already in place. Utilising top-level expertise would create great results.

Executive Vice President of R&D at Valio, Professor Tiina Mattila-Sandholm says that times are challenging both nationally and internationally.

“This is why I consider change leadership and renewal the main objectives in my career. These are also the areas that I am interested in terms of management and leadership.”

“Change and renewal is always painful. No pain, no gain – or change. We must be able to boldly leave our comfort zones; success and new openings cannot be created by half-hearted agreements. Instead, it must be possible to have open and direct discussions.”

Even in the ancient Greece, people were able to speak candidly in their personal relationships. We cannot create new openings without candidness and trust, and this is where speaking openly comes in. We have funded enough quasi-cooperation and structures in Finland.​


 

Thinking cannot be outsourced

According to Tiina Mattila-Sandholm, a company must, at a minimum, conduct enough in-house research to be able to understand the operating logic of research and to work in cooperation with research organisations.

“If a company outsources all thinking to researchers, it is not going to get what it wants in terms of innovation. When it comes to thinking, the company’s input must be at least 50 per cent.”

“In research cooperation, it is essential that the company itself identifies the problems to tackle. Too often, cooperative projects create solutions to marginal problems that the research scientist come up with. It seems that companies are lazy when it comes to identifying their core problems. And even if they do, they do not want to share them. In-depth cooperation and results are possible when the parties form a value chain which helps ensure confidentiality – and peace of mind.”

In-house research has always been an important part of Valio’s operations. The company works in cooperation with Finnish and international research institutes and universities. VTT has participated in Valio’s research operations in different projects.

“Projects that have developed the use of enzymes further are a good example of research cooperation between VTT and Valio. This research has helped improve the taste and structure of products. We have also made use of VTT’s protein expertise and have hired some research scientists from VTT. VTT’s role is to act as a technology expert and provide value add to companies through expertise.”

Mattila-Sandholm believes that Valio is heading towards an innovative future. She describes the company’s history as pioneering and, at times, anarchic.

“Valio has always been ahead of the curve. I am fascinated by the company’s ability of independent and contrary thinking. As a large enterprise, we naturally have certain processes and methods in place, but there is also a rebellious gene in our DNA. I wouldn’t want it any other way! Rebellious attitude keeps things interesting.”


 

No point repeating the same mistakes

According to Mattila-Sandholm, despite the challenging economic times, Finland should invest in research.

“But without repeating the same old mistakes yet again!” She has expressed a wish to funding providers to find new types of instruments.

“Funding steers the work of researchers. Universities have talked about more focused research for a long time, but when is it actually going to happen? Research institutes must also understand that a customer pays for the research, but not for the layers of management steering it. This is all too common now.”

“A research scientist should understand that in business, the preparatory stage takes a while. We are not going to jump on-board simply because project funding is available. One cannot avoid the impression that businesses are not invited to participate in projects out of choice – it’s time to turn a new leaf and stop wasting money like this.”

Mattila-Sandholm would like to see funding providers modify their instruments in a way that allows genuine, in-depth research cooperation.

“They should create light structures without too much bureaucracy. We need to turn from words to actions, but why is it so difficult? We simply cannot afford any more pseudo-research.”

“The global market is turning into an even harsher environment. Customers need added value,­ and VTT is well equipped to provide opportunities for providing it. For example, development of our domestic protein self-sufficiency would be a fantastic cooperation opportunity for VTT and the Natural Resources Institute Finland.”

Mattila-Sandholm says that Finland is not the only country where research cooperation is lacking.

“Finland would gain significant competitive edge from genuine, in-depth research cooperation models. As an educated and skilled nation, we have all the required elements in place. As a small country, our ‘machine’ is relatively small in international comparison; many parties have direct contacts with decision-making parties, which improves agility.” 


 

Tiina Mattila-Sandholm

IMP_TiinaMattilaSandholm.jpg
 

Work: Professor, Executive Vice President, Member of Valio’s executive board since 2004. Executive Vice President, R&D at Valio since 2004, also responsible for Valio’s technology sales and baby foods.

Has worked in different management roles related to HR, strategy, fresh products and production. Previously employed by VTT for an extensive period. Research Professor, Industrial Microbiology at VTT 1986–2004. Academy of Finland, Board member 2004–2009. Nutrition Foundation, Chairman of the Board of Directors 2014–. Chr Hansen and Luke, Member of the Board of Directors 2015.

Leisure: Reading, studying, personal renewal. Favourite destinations include Southern Italy, Asia and the US. Favourite interests include spending time with her husband and discussions with her son.


 

RIDING THE CURRENT FOOD TRENDS

Finnish milk is of uniform and high quality, which is of benefit in all stages of processing, Professor Tiina Mattila-Sandholm says.

“Milk has excellent nutritional content and is suitable for many types of applications. It contains minerals, protein and calcium, and can be used to promote recovery, vitality and sleep,” Mattila-Sandholm says.

Current food trends in Finland reflect global trends.

“At the moment, consumers are interested in protein-rich products. Authenticity is a permanent food trend. Emerging trends are related to reduced levels of sugar and salt without compromising taste. Raw foods and slow-fast-food are trends emerging from Asia,” she says.

“Eating and food are associated with enjoyment and well-being; food is contributing to the reduction of stress and maintenance of vitality. The effect of gut health on our brains and energy levels are a hot topic globally.”

Both gut and brain research will provide new, ground-breaking information on the way our bodies work. Can we utilise these results quickly, or will others get there first?

The health effects of probiotics were a popular research topic a decade ago. However, the health claims related to probiotics have not advanced in EFSA.

“EFSA has made it impossible to adopt a scientific approach to the health effect of probiotics. Probiotics are nevertheless selling well on the global ingredients markets, and the Valio LGG bacteria is an important product for us – and popular among consumers.”

Valio’s product development follows global food trends. The company aims to reduce the amount of sugar in its milk-based snack products and yoghurt in particular by 50% without compromising taste. Protein products are going to be a permanent trend, while products that promote gut health are another emerging trend. Technologies that make consumers’ lives easier are also creating trends: Valio has patented technology that prevents the scorching of milk-based products.

Tiina Mattila-Sandholm drinks a glass of lactose-free milk with freshly baked cinnamon buns or rye bread. With meals she tends to drinks water. She starts her day with non-fat buttermilk and bilberry soup or Valio’s new kefir drinks. Yoghurt or quark with berries is her favourite sugar-free snack.​

 

 

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