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Meet the Founders

Meet the Founders: Helena Lumme and Mika Manninen of Hälsa Foods

Founders Helena Lumme and Mike Manninen

Hälsa Foods is full of zeroes: zero sugar, zero artificial ingredients, zero additives, and zero water footprint in the growing of their organic oats.

Hälsa is Swedish for health and for Helena and Mika, that means creating a plant-based yogurt that is 100% clean from start to finish. They work with U.S. farmers to diversify and grow premium organic Scandinavian oats – irrigated only by rain and with zero water footprint. Their process of transforming the oats to oat milk keeps the beneficial nutrients of the whole grain intact, just as Mother Nature intended.

Organic fruits and berries give it a refreshing flavor while the organic oats neutralize the stomach, leading to better digestion and a stronger immune system. For Helena and Mika, this was key to creating the ideal yogurt (or “oatgurt” as they call it).

Recently, we caught up with Helena and Mika to learn more about their journey and hear their advice for fellow entrepreneurs.

Stack of oat milk yogurts

01 Why did you start Hälsa Foods?

We love yogurt, but couldn’t find anything on the market that we liked. So, we set out to create our dream yogurt. It had to be plant-based, unprocessed, free of all food additives, naturally nourishing, and of course, delicious. We called it Hälsa, which is Swedish for health.

Most plant-based yogurts are heavily processed and contain artificial ingredients which destroy the good bacteria in the gut. You eat yogurt for gut health and immunity, so why would you include food additives that destroy the good bacteria? That made no sense to us. For yogurt to be healthy, it needs to be free of all food chemicals that burden the digestive system.

The second reason we created Hälsa is environmental. When we transition from animal-based to plant-based foods, we have to be mindful not to create new environmental problems, like monocropping or using ingredients that require huge amounts of fresh water to grow.

Oats are a resilient grain that grow well in different parts of the world. Oats don’t need a single drop of water to grow, and rainwater is enough to irrigate the fields. We use organic oats grown by our contract farmers so that we know the whole chain, and can make sure that what we do is sustainable.

02 What obstacles did you face along the way?

Getting funding was the biggest problem for us. Six years ago, nobody had heard about oat milk, so we were laughed at. Also, people were wondering why we refused to use any additives since everybody else is doing that.

Oatmeal made with oat milk yogurt

03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?

This may sound contradictory, but don’t delegate. When you are building your company, you should be involved in building every function and department yourself. That way, you know exactly what is required from a person to run it.

There has to be one person in the company who knows pretty much everything. During the pandemic, many companies were not able to fill the pipeline because their workers did not show up. However, if you’re able to do every step yourself, you can make things happen regardless.

With us, Mika stepped in and did everything. He was running the warehouse, lifting bags, loading trucks, driving the trucks, running the productions, building pallets, and more, all to make sure our customers got their orders. Had we been reliant on staff that was out sick, the production would have stopped.

04 What’s on the horizon for Hälsa Foods?

Aggressive growth. Last year, we noticed the tide turning as consumers began to steer away from buying heavily processed plant-based products, and started demanding cleaner, healthier ones. Hälsa is the only organic oat milk yogurt on the market! It is also the only yogurt that checks all the boxes when it comes to both a nutritional and an environmental point of view.

Founders in safety hats and goggles

05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?

With Covid, our work/life balance went out the door because we needed to fill in for people who were ill.

Being stressed for long periods can lead to illness, and that’s why it’s important to take care of yourself. Probiotics are so important for your mood, gut health, and immunity — they truly make a difference. We meditate, take long walks, have picnics at the beach…just simple and easy activities that keep us grounded and focused on things that truly matter.

Getting positive feedback from customers inspires us. We get a lot of emails from parents telling us “Thank you for making the yogurt my picky eater wants to eat.”

Dairy Digestive Health Healthy Living Immunity Vegan Woman-Owned