FINLAND – Finnish dairy and soft drinks group Valio is phasing out the use of natural gas at its factories while turning to the use of electricity.

The company, which said 10% of the energy it uses comes from natural gas, is to start the full phasing-out process at its dairy plant in Riihimäki.

The plant has already been converted to biofuels and natural gas has been used for heating only in the coldest weather. Now natural gas boilers are to be replaced by an electric boiler.

Valio, a cooperative owned by 4,000 Finnish farmers, has two production plants in Riihimäki, a snack plant completed in 2017, and the Herajoki dairy plant, which has been operating since the late 1960s.

The decision, according to Valio, was taken before the war in Ukraine, which has left European countries facing gas shortages.

Finland’s 60-70% of natural gas comes from Russia, with which it shares a border, however, President Vladimir Putin has cut gas exports in response to sanctions imposed on the country following the February invasion of Ukraine.

Peter Fabritius, energy manager at Valio, said: “Natural gas has been in use in Riihimäki factories for a longer time with a small load, and in this kind of use, the efficiency of natural gas is poor. In addition, Valio’s goal is to reset milk’s carbon footprint to zero by 2035. This means phasing out fossil fuels such as natural gas.

“We have already started working to reduce our use of natural gas to operate responsibly and cost-effectively by building a bio-pellet boiler plant for our juice factory in Helsinki and an electric boiler for our factory in Vantaa. We have stopped using natural gas in our storage at Tampere and switched to district heating.”

Fabritius admitted limiting the amount of natural gas it is exporting – and the resulting cost increases linked to a fuel shortage – was also a factor.

Valio creates the milk chocolate of the future through artificial intelligence

Meanwhile, Valio has unveiled new low-sugar milk chocolate created using AI-design features, deemed as “future-proofed” milk chocolate.

The Bar’s recipe is based on AI analysis of milk chocolate lovers’ thoughts, cravings, and tastes combined with over 1.5 million public milk chocolate-related social media discussions.

Valio said it enlisted technology company Aiwo Digital to analyze the global assortment of opinions and also created the futuristic concept together with local chocolate artists of Kultasuklaa company.

Through the AI analysis, the company reached two main conclusions; no single favorite chocolate taste, filling, or size was detected, and consumers prefer to indulge in milk chocolate with a clean conscience. 

Further, they discovered a growing demand for natural, healthier chocolate products because the Bar contains 30% less sugar and is lactose-free.

By utilizing Valio Bettersweet, a milk powder solution that enables natural sugar reduction in any milk chocolate product by using the proteins in milk reducing the need for added sugar, chocolate manufacturers can fully dispense with artificial sweeteners.

The 30% sugar reduction is just the beginning, as Valio has solutions under development that can eliminate the amount of added sugar.

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