23.08.2022 - Food processing & retail, Technology

Freeze-dried products produced in Latvia aim for global market

Smiltene-based business Lāča Oga has collaborated with food technology scientists from the Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies to develop 20 new products: freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders. They can currently be found in Latvian stores under the brand Lio Superfood, and the hope is to offer them on the export market in the future.

The company also collaborated with scientists to research the nutritional value of the products. “We conducted a variety of research, including on the volumes of various vitamins and minerals in the products. At times, we were completely gleeful on receiving results which confirmed how nutritious our products are,” explains Lio Superfood product developer and owner Elīna Seleviča. 

For example, blackcurrant and bell pepper powder is a significant source of vitamin C, while beetroot powder contains 94% of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid. “This just once again confirms how healthy freeze-dried products are compared with other processing methods. This research gave us a serious scientific basis to, for example, add specific labels to our product packaging. I am truly grateful to project manager Ilze Laukalēja, who was my teacher in navigating the details of food technology,” continues Seleviča. 

One whole vegetable per spoon

Lio Superfood’s products are made up of the natural products we all know: vegetables, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and herbs. However, they are presented in a different form: freeze-dried. Seleviča explains that freeze-drying, or lyophilization in scientific terms, is a processing method during which a product is frozen at a very low temperature. A vacuum is then used to squeeze out the water in crystallized form, after which it is released as steam. Natural products which are processed in this way maintain almost all of the nutritional value, vitamins, and minerals present in the fresh product. Each product’s taste, smell, colour, and structure also remain almost unchanged. 

“Freeze-dried products can be stored easily and for a long time, and are easy to use. It is this easy use which is why we grind vegetables into a silky powder after freeze-drying. Now, you have a whole vegetable in one spoonful along with all its vitamins and minerals. Add a spoonful of beetroot powder to your cottage cheese, porridge, or smoothie at breakfast, and you will have eaten a whole beetroot, taking in all of its valuable nutrients,” adds Seleviča. 

However, the company is not resting on its laurels, with work already begun on a new product line. The plan for the next year is to enter the export markets. This will probably require increased manufacturing capacity, so plans are already in place to expand production facilities. 

Launching from the pre-incubation program 

To go from a business idea to a viable commercial product, the business owner applied for various business support programs. The first step was to join the pre-incubation program run by the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA). 

“I felt supported at every step. Under the supervision of lecturers, we each polished our business ideas like diamonds: impassively, realistically, and rationally, but without losing our passion. I think that it is this polishing process, including finding a niche, developing a target customer, gathering information on relevant resources, and other activities, which gave me a structured understanding of my business model and the viability of my business idea. It was then easy to present it to others or apply to other support programs,” says Seleviča. 

This spring, Lāča Oga successfully entered the LIAA business incubator program in Valmiera. The company purchased freeze-drying equipment with the support of the LEADER program. Meanwhile, in June, Lāča Oga won a Smiltene new business competition and was able to purchase a vegetable peeling machine. “Automating the manufacturing process as much as possible, thereby increasing manufacturing capacity, is an extremely significant factor in increasing the competitiveness of the company,” emphasizes Seleviča.

She recommends that all new entrepreneurs take advantage of all available support programs for business owners.

“There are so many of them. For example, a good first step is a pre-incubation program. Of course, everything requires getting involved, and a lot of time and energy, but how else will this train move forward?” adds the business owner. 

Application opens for the LIAA business incubator pre-incubation program autumn season, reports Labs of Latvia. This six-month training program will accept 260 business ideas from throughout Latvia.

Business requires a thick skin and persistence 

One of the biggest challenges that almost all new business owners face is the enormous amount of work which leaves them unable to prioritize specific tasks. The will to learn and do everything oneself can lead to a lack of focus on priorities. Seleviča admits that business is a harsher environment than psychology, where she used to work. 

“I had to grow a thicker skin. You need to learn not just how to love your product like your own child, but also understand that it isn’t a child — you have to accept that the customer will vote with their wallet,” says Seleviča.

She recommends talking to your customers and asking not just what they like, but also what they don’t like about a product. Once you get over the initial discomfort of hearing unpleasant things about your cherished idea, you have a valuable opportunity to improve and make the product into what people want. 

Persistence is also important. “All business owners need a bit of mad enthusiasm during the beginning phase. Particularly when it comes to manufacturing. You have to believe in your product for some time before other people start believing in it too,” concludes the business owner. 

Source: labsoflatvia.com

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