A conversation with Oddgeir Hole
An easygoing one-on-one with members at A house Ark
January 16th 2023
The vegetarian section at the supermarket can seem like a good choice regardless of what ends up in your cart; but as we remove products with little nutrition, cross-continental transportation and a global sourcing of ingredients, few options remain. One brand that does is Färsodlarna. Meet studio member Oddgeir Hole, CEO at Färsodlarna – a company that offers a veggie mince that is grown, farmed and produced in Sweden.
Tell us about Färsodlarna and how the idea of a veggie mince fully produced in Sweden came to be.
We based the product on a prototype developed by the Swedish NGO Axfoundation; they had worked on the project for several years including which crops to use and how to mix it. When we started Färsodlarna in October of 2020 we developed a consumer product and brand, and launched it on the Swedish market. This was during one of the hardest lockdown periods of the pandemic so processes were quite different – instead of meeting the retailers’ buyers in their offices, we met in their backyards or gardens in the winter darkness, handing over the latest artwork developments and production tests. Both ICA and Coop then stocked us in September 2021.
Färsodlarna’s veggie mince consists of sweet lupines, field peas, field beans and rapeseed. Did you have any pre-knowledge about legumes and their potential for a plant-based protein?
Not much. I visited our farmer partners in Skåne and Öland to get a crash course, asking them a lot of very basic questions. But we ended up having some really interesting discussions around farming itself and the business of farming.
To accompany his portraits, Oddgeir has selected a school chair from our inventory, dating back to when the building where we operate still was the KTH School of Architecture. The chair has been rethought and redesigned by students at Beckmans College of Design.
When will the majority of Swedes use veggie alternatives for their bolognese instead of meat? How long do you estimate that it takes to change this kind of fundamental consumer behavior?
If we want a planet to live on we have to.
It has taken the category roughly 20 years to get to this point, and the majority of products sold are still based on the original technology: extracted protein powder. How can this be? Quite simply because consumers accept it, and nobody has taken on the role of educating them about alternatives. If you sell 20 year old tech and your customer is happy, you clearly have no incentive to educate otherwise. But today there are options out there based on newer tech with better bioavailability and nutritional content. Not to mention environmental profiles – the CO2e footprint of our tech is two-three times lower than the old school.
But newcomers, like us, have a brutal task ahead of them as they have to win against both existing market leaders within the plant-based industry as well as giant meat companies. The days of sugar-coated-protein-powder must come to an end sooner or later – but it could very well be later. To answer your question: January 2030.
Looking back at this journey, what have been some of the most significant challenges so far?
With a startup you don’t have the routines, guidelines and frameworks you have in an existing business. You don’t have an IT department, a production facility, a warehouse, HR, no nothing. Everything that is done in a startup is done for the very first time which makes it more time consuming.
Which one of the A house principles speaks to you the most and why?
“Thinking by doing” is great in a startup as you often simultaneously develop, test, redevelop, retest, concept test during the actual production. “Sharing problems, not just solutions” is also very important in a startup as everybody needs to share not just successes but also failures so that we can move fast in the somewhat general direction of our strategy. Personally, I am going to try and use A house Ark better to discuss issues with other members to learn and share the best practices.
What are the greatest advantages for you as a team to be members at Ark?
We love A kitchen obviously – and use it a lot. But above all, A house gives you energy.