Generational leadership and sustainable ambitions have guided family-run business, Helsinki Mills  

As Finland’s largest producer of organic grain products, Helsinki Mills offers a broad portfolio including oats, muesli, and baking kits, which are available to consumers, foodservice providers, food distributors, and bakeries. Throughout its history, the business has milled a range of locally sourced Finnish grains like wheat, rye, barley, and oats, but oats have become the dominant grain in recent years, with Helsinki Mills specializing in gluten-free grains specifically.  

The company operates three production plants across Finland in Järvenpää, Vaasa, and Närpiö, which are the country’s first carbon-neutral mills. With an entirely carbon-neutral production process, sustainability is clearly a key driver for Helsinki Mills. The process is fuelled by renewable energy and the necessary thermal energy for producing flakes is generated by burning oat hull waste in the company’s own biopower plant.  

Known in Finland as Helsingin Mylly, the business is not only Finland’s largest producer of organic cereal products, but it has also built a strong export strategy. Today, export accounts for around 35 percent of its total turnover, and sees products, particularly the oats range, available in more than 50 countries around the globe.

Left to right:Filip Kumlin, Maret Puhk, Niklas Kumlin
Left to right:
Filip Kumlin, Maret Puhk, Niklas Kumlin

Established in 1934, Helsinki Mills remains a family owned and operated business, with the current CEO, Niklas Kumlin, representing the fourth generation. “I am proud to lead this company and play a part in a chain of generational management,” Niklas opens. “Food touches each and every one of our lives; it is tangible and always needed. Also, as they are plant-based, grain products have a completely new appeal in the market today as they align with current trends and recommendations to consume more plant-based foods.” 

Big-hearted business 

The mill’s history can be traced back to the Estonian Puhk family, who, after successfully establishing a milling business in Estonia, moved to Helsinki to broaden operations. The business, then known as Helsinki Mill and Trading Ltd, was managed by one of five Puhk brothers, Eduard Puhk, until his death in 1943. The company’s name was shortened to its current form in 1952 and although it remains under the Puhk family’s ownership, it has been led by external managers until Niklas, the great-grandson of Eduard, stepped into the role of CEO in 2017.  

However, Niklas is not the only family member involved in the business today. His brother, Filip Kumlin, manages the mill’s export trade, and their mother, Marit Puhk, serves as chairperson and a majority shareholder. As a lawyer, Marit also looks after the company’s legal and HR matters.  

With a degree in cellular and molecular biology, Niklas didn’t always intend to run Helsinki Mills. “My mother invited me and my brother over for dinner and asked if either of us would be willing to take over the family business,” Niklas reflects. “Without any prior experience, I raised my hand and agreed to take on the business. I didn’t just assume the role, but instead spent several years working in production, marketing, and even the laboratory.  

“The fact that our family has remained operationally active over the years is a crucial contributing factor to the success, growth, and longevity Helsinki Mills has experienced. The entire family cares deeply about our employees and their families, and we ‘do’ business with a big heart and genuine understanding.” 

Sustainability commitment 

Turning to operations, Niklas continues: “All our grain, packaging, and most of our raw materials are locally sourced in Finland, so our products have a very high domestic content. We’re known as a longstanding producer of organic products and have more recently become known for our gluten-free oat products. The products are sold under the Myllӓrin brand, both in retail stores and directly to the food industry. 

“We’ve recently rebranded Myllӓrin to better reflect modern times and showcase our values and passion for customer happiness. The rebranding includes a new look for our logo and our packaging, as well as a redesigned website. The response has been very positive so far, especially among international markets. 

“We’re also investing in a new packaging line, which will better serve our retail-packed products,” he reveals. “The new line also boasts improved product safety over varying external conditions and longer logistical distances, enabling us to reach customers quickly and safely.” 

Sustainability has been a longstanding commitment of Helsinki Mills, and one that is engrained in its decision-making process. “We take our sustainable development principles into account in everything we do,” Niklas states. “Environmental responsibility is in our DNA and an intrinsic, natural part of our operation. We’ve practiced sustainability long before it became a necessity, or a consumer demand and we’ve minimized our emissions through all actions accessible to us and we’ve compensated for other emissions through great external partnerships. 

“We’re incredibly proud to have reached carbon neutrality according to Scope 2, and we’re now moving towards the same status for our Scope 3 emissions. It’s not an easy journey, but one that needs to be done. We also operate our own biopower plant in Vaasa, which utilizes waste oat husks to sustainably obtain the energy required for our production processes.” 

With Niklas at the helm, Helsinki Mills is sure to continue growing as it continuously strives to improve the ways in which it supports customers and the wider environment. “I am sure the business will continue to grow and evolve, in terms of both products and profits,” Niklas concludes. “We’re always open to new development areas to offer more support for our employees than what is viable at our current size.”