5 iconic Finnish companies founded by immigrants

Read the Finnish tabloid press and you might be mistaken for thinking that the whole world wants to move to Finland. In fact, Finland —which is in dire need of immigrants to help with its rapidly aging population— has one of the smallest non-native populations in the EU. As of 2017, there were 373,325 foreign people resident, or just 6.8% of the population, compared with, for example, the 500 000 Finnish first and second generation Finnish immigrants in Sweden. Yet despite its comparatively tiny size, the immigrant community has a long and proud history contributing to Finnish society. Indeed, included in the tens of thousands of businesses created by immigrant entrepreneurs, in the last couple of centuries, are some of Finland most successful and iconic companies.  Here are five Finns love best.


Stockmann is Scandinavia’s largest department store. It was founded in 1862 by Georg Franz Stockmann, a German merchant from the northern city of Lübeck. Stockmann first came to Finland in 1852 to work as a bookkeeper and cashier at Nuutajärvi Glassworks, a glass production company. He later became the shop manager, and then took control of the business on 1 February 1862, just one year after arriving in Finland. Over the years Stockmann has opened a total of six stores in Finland. Stockmann’s flagship store, based in the heart of Helsinki offers ten floors and more than 50.000 square meters of shopping space.


Fazer was founded by Karl Fazer, who was born into a Swiss family in 1866. In 1891 Fazer opened a French-Russian café in Helsinki where he started manufacturing chocolate, as well as sweets. Today Fazer is the most well-known food manufacturer of Finland and is famous for the crafting of quality food and delicacies. Fazer’s products vary from bread to pastries, to chocolate, sweets and the famous Easter Mignon chocolate eggs.


In 1820 Scottish engineer James Finlayson built machinery to produce cotton by the Tammerkoski rapids in the city of Tampere. Eight years later Finlayson established the Finnish Cotton Industry and started producing cotton textiles using the machines he had built. In 1836 the factory was sold to Carl Nottbeck and Georg Rauch, two businessmen from St. Petersburg. They saw a period of rapid growth, and the company became the biggest industrial producer in Scandinavia. In the 1800s the area around the factory even grew to include a school, hospital and police station, and eventually consisted of 71 buildings. By 1975, Finlayson was Finland’s biggest employer, with 6.500 employees. Today the company is still considered to be the most famous textile manufacturer in Finland.


Founded in 1819 by Russian merchant Nikolai Sinebrychoff, Sinebrychoff is the oldest beer brewery and soft drinks producer in the Nordic countries. Born in the Russian town of Gavrilov in 1788, Sinebrychoff moved his construction business from Russia to the outskirts of Helsinki at the age of 29. In that same year, he bought himself the exclusive rights to distill alcohol, which was the start of his famous beer brewery. His legacy lives on in the art world, as Nikolai Sinebrychoff’s descendants donated their personal collection of around 900 works of art to the Finnish government. The collection is still on display in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki and is housed in its original home.


Paulig is a leading coffee and food company that was founded in 1876 by Gustav Paulig, an immigrant from Germany. At the time, the majority of food in Helsinki was sold in the form of unprocessed raw ingredients. But Paulig added excitement to Finnish cuisine by importing and trading colonial goods such as coffee, flour, salt, and spices, as well as port and cognac. After Gustav Paulig passed away in 1907, his wife, Bertha Paulig took control of the business. Paulig continues to be a well-known company in Finland and now sells its products in over 40 countries.

So, the next time you enjoy a popular national product, remember the stories of the ambitious immigrants that have helped create some of Finland’s most famous foods and businesses.

Photo credit: Stockmann Group 

15 replies

  1. Here is someone who is famous in the music industry for making effects pedals: Douglas Castro, the founder of Darkglass Electronics, is an electric and audio technology prodigy who moved from his native Santiago, Chile, to Helsinki, Finland. Since early age he has been designing and building bass and guitar effects and preamps. Douglas found that similar products by other manufacturers sounded poor so he decided to design his own effects. When others heard what Douglas had created and wanted to include similar stompboxes in their own effects arsenal, Douglas turned his hobby into a profession and founded Darkglass Electronics. Years have passed but Douglas has not budged an inch from his ideals of sound and has only developed them further. Those who know anything about anything already have their own Microtubes B3K.

  2. Stockmann nowdays has serious financial problems. They did not study ecommerce early enough and lost that battle. Half the staff is kicked out. Many corners /floors of the department store are hired out to independent enterpreuners, not being Stockmann.

  3. The Sweden Finns (the Finnish-speaking minority in Sweden) are not immigrants. We are a national minority since the year of 2000. This means we are Swedes. To call us immigrants regardless of that our existence in Sweden has been at least for the last 800 years is highly offensive…

  4. Not to forget the German Engel who designed both the new central Turku town plan after the 1827 fire, and the Helsinki ”enpire” town plan, the present city center. Or Pacius, who composed the national anthem.

    Also, Finland was part of Russia in Sinebrychoff’s time, so was he a foreigner? If so, indeed, many Finns contributed to achieving stuff there, and abroad as part of the empire. Some aren’t remembered as Finns. E.g. Russian Alaska had some pioneering Finnish born governers.

  5. First went to Helsinki 20 years ago. It’s a hundred times more interesting city now there’s more cultures living and working there. Just look at the great restaurants!

  6. You should have mentioned how Fazer is pronounce. It always fazes me when foreigners think it is pronounced like … one who fazes you. In Bavaria, where the name still is quite common, it is mostly written Fatzer and pronunced futt-suh.

  7. It’s good to know that these popular brands are originated from immigrant entrepreneurs. Will you introduce some famous brands which were kicked start from the local Finns next time? ?

  8. “Stockmann is Scandinavia’s largest department store.” For the 1000th time: Finland is NOT part of Scandinavia!!

  9. The forest industry has during the last 150 years made it possible for Finland to undergo the transition from a rural society into an industrialised country with a strong position within today’s information technology, by providing a constant (and significant) flow of foreign currency. The forest industry was almost exclusively created by immigrants during the 19th century.

  10. Something to think about… Swedes are to Finland as Europeans are to Americas – a remnant of the colonial era and a sad reminder of our history where colonialists would take over land for their resources and abuse the natives. In Finland we pretend like it’s something special to be a Swedish speaking Finn when we should focus on preserving our own culture and language. Finnish speaking Finns are native to Finland and need to be recognized as such as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.