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.
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.
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.
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