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WINTER I 2013 / 2014


Biotech And Functional Food

Estonia Estonia Contributes Goes Organic To Life-changing Genetics Katre K천vask

The Dynamic Leader Good Bacteria of Premia To The Rescue Small Producers Making A Big Difference Diverse Estonian Restaurant Landscape

land & people I state & society I economy & business I technology & innovation I culture & entertainment I tourism

Estonian food combines nature and science The food industry and the development of food products are among the most rapidly developing branches of the knowledgebased economy in the world. “Functional food” has become a fashionable term, in a positive sense, and, together with the rapid increase in the popularity of organic foods, it demonstrates the different needs that people have today when it comes to nutrition and taking care of their health. Estonia can boast of great results in the development of functional foods. The probiotic milk acid bacteria Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 and Tensia, discovered by the Estonian scientist Marika Mikelsaar, have won prizes in various competitions. More importantly, we have food products which contain those useful bacteria.

COVER Katre Kõvask Photo by: Atko Januson

Executive publisher Positive Projects Pärnu mnt 69, 10134 Tallinn, Estonia Editor Reet Grosberg Translation Ingrid Hübscher Ambassador Translation Agency Language editor Richard Adang Design & Layout Positive Design Partner

The predicted growth in the world’s population to 9.6 billion by the year 2050 places increasing demands on food, as well as on the growth of special nutritional needs. This turns functional food, product development and biotechnology into fields with enormous potential for guaranteeing a better sense of well-being for people, not to mention their economic benefits. For example, Estonian scientists from the University of Tartu have patented an appliance which finds traces of antibiotics in milk in realtime. The milk is analysed within one minute. A silage bacterium discovered in Estonia, which is used as a silage additive, is registered on the list of EU feed additives.

received quality awards from the German Association of Agriculture DLG: a gold and a bronze. The independent international recognition demonstrates the high quality and great taste of those products. An important precondition for producing great food is nature and Estonia is wealthy in this sense. Climate conditions enable us to produce more naturally than in other countries. We are ranked third in the EU and fifth in Europe in terms of organic production. Organic production growth is based on people’s increased awareness and interest in the origins of the food they consume. Saidafarm, an Estonian organic producer, received the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2013 for implementing extensive sustainable and innovative measures. This proves that even with larger production volumes it is possible to produce sustainably, and market organic food. Polls show that 82% of Estonian consumers prefer to buy organic food, mainly to take care of their health and the environment. In step with increasing consumer demand, exciting organic products and organic restaurants have come onto the market. You can read about many of them in this issue. Estonians are not stingy and we invite all those who are interested to experience the natural and the innovative at the same time. In January, our great food can be found at the Grüne Woche fair in Berlin, where Estonia is a partner state under the slogan “Naturally Estonian”. But the best way is of course to visit Estonia and let yourself be positively surprised.

The latest great achievement of Estonian producers is de-mineralised whey powder, which is a valuable component of baby food. While today the babies of the European Union, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore are benefiting from this product, the future target is of course the Chinese market. Hence, milk is the flagship of our agriculture. Estonia’s milk production covers 170% of our own consumption, meaning that our milk and milk products are sold to consumers in other countries as well. In autumn 2013, two Estonian cheeses

Helir-Valdor Seeder Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Estonia

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WINTER_2013 / 2014 6 Where to go this season? Life in Estonia recommends 8 News 9 Estonian organic food a growing trend Organic farming land makes up 15% of Estonian farming land, placing Estonia in third place in the EU. According to surveys, over 82% of Estonian consumers would prefer to buy organic food. Toomas Kevvai, Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety, Research and Development of the Ministry of Agriculture gives a brief introduction of the topic under the Rural Development Plan.

10 The Estonian food industry small but smart The Estonian food industry is very small in comparison to that of its neighbouring countries. Its flagships, the milk, meat and beverage industries, form over half of the entire production value. In 2012, the Estonian food industry had the largest percentage growth in production volume in the entire EU. Taavi Kand, Head of the Trade and Agro-Food Department, Ministry of Agriculture, reports.

16 Tartu – a town of good bacteria In the last few years, the Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products (BioCC), based in Tartu, has discovered and researched previously unknown Lactobacillus strains and made them work for the benefit of consumers. BioCC is the owner of 20 patents, and 11 patent applications are pending in Estonia, Europe, the USA, Russia, Korea and Japan.

20 Estonia makes its way onto the world map with new cancer medication Life in Estonia visited the Competence Centre for Cancer Research, which aims to develop cancer drug candidates and diagnostic platforms, to find out which of their projects may reach the world market in the near future.

24 All genetic roads lead to Estonia Tartu is the place to turn to when a nation gets gripped with the eternal question “Where do we come from?”. With the help of genes, scientists at the Estonian Biocentre have traced the ancient migration of people, helping to establish the origins of, among others, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians

28 Scientists saved the honour of a national hero The trial of the most famous Estonian male cross-country skier, Andrus Veerpalu, in the international Court of Arbitration became a match of scientists in which three relatively unknown Estonians beat WADA. The team was led by Sulev Kõks, Professor of Physiological Genomics at the University of Tartu, who is currently working with three other interesting projects.

12 Katre Kõvask: Premia Foods owes its market leader status to a great team Katre Kõvask is the Chair of Premia Foods, which is active in six states and in five target markets in three different business segments: ice cream, chilled fishery products, and frozen foods. The company is noted on the Nasdaq OMX Tallinn Stock Exchange. Life in Estonia visited Katre Kõvask in the last days of 2013 to talk about the past, present and future of the corporation.



32 MetaMed rescues wealthy patients from the randomness of the medical system Jaan Tallinn’s company MetaMed offers a personal medical service to the wealthy which can cost up to 250,000 USD. Inspiration for the creation of the company came from Steve Jobs’ fight with cancer.

34 How to stay healthy? Let’s ask the bacteria in your tummy Flick Diet, an Estonian start-up, helps people to lose weight and live healthily. Practical nutritional advice is provided through the DNA analsis of gut bacteria.

49 Peeter Laurits - wrestling with ancient forces It must be creative potential which has taken Peeter Laurits where he is today. It has brought him through dark sorrows and elevated dreams, in order to find his own place in the arts world. Get acquainted with his journey and art.

37 Quality labels help Estonians select food Four of the best known food quality labels issued by the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce and the Estonian Food Industry Association help Estonian consumers to make choices in grocery stores. For companies, a quality label provides the opportunity to attract attention to their product and to emphasize the local nature of raw materials or production. A quality label is a good way to increase sales and save on marketing costs when entering the market with a new product.

42 Kalamatsi goat - milk dairy experiments with new cheeses Esna, a picturesque village in the Estonian countryside, is where Aita Mets and Jaan Raudkivi have, in just three years, established the Kalamatsi Dairy. Its organic products are sold in shops and the best restaurants in Estonia.

44 Minna Sahver surprises with special jelly candy

61 Winny Puhh Six Estonian musicians created a commotion with their appearance at the Paris Fashion Week when Rick Owens, a designer of exclusive male fashion, invited the band to perform at the presentation of his Spring Collection 2014. The show received immediate media attention all over the world. Who are these rural lads who became pets of the world’s fashion elite?

64 Organic and rustic: a new trend in the Estonian restaurant landscape It seems that the entire world is moving towards simpler and fresher food. Famous head chefs from different continents are going back toward their roots. Local ingredients, simple flavours and affordable prices are in. Get acquainted with some of the trendy eating places in Tallinn and in the countryside.

Minna Sahver is a small company which sells jelly candy handmade from natural berries, fruit and vegetable purees free of artificial colourings and preservatives. In November, the company celebrated its third birthday in its new production facility.

71 The food served in Estonia is sumptuous and diverse 46 Success guaranteed by product development and innovation The only yeast producer in Estonia, the Salutaguse Yeast Factory is part of the Lallemand Group, with its head office in Canada. The factory produces liquid yeast, inactive dry yeast, and inactive dry yeast-based additives. Most of the production is exported to Europe, North America and Asia.

Six years of experience in choosing the fifty best restaurants in Estonia demonstrates that the local cuisine offers a good reason to visit the country. This year’s TOP 5 restaurants showcase the diversity of food on offer in Estonia.

77 Estonia in brief 78 Practical information for visitors WINTER 2013 / 2014




MustonenFest / 30.01 - 8.02.2014 / Third time under the name of MustonenFest, this international music festival has been held regularly since 1989. It brings to the listeners an unlimited amount of music in different genres through centuries. In 2014 the initiator and artistic director of the festival, Andres Mustonen brings to the audience Mario Brunello, Israel Camerata, the Coptic archaic choir, English early music ensemble La Serenissima and several outstanding soloists with whom he has had the joy and honour to share the stage at different concert hall in the world.

Anatoli Arhangelski

Modigliani – the Cursed Artist / Thomas Edur’s ballet to the music of Tauno Aints / On 11, 22 and 24 January 2014 / “Modigliani – the Cursed Artist” is Thomas Edur’s debut as a stage director at the Estonian National Opera. The ballet tells an exciting story of the stormy life of Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), one of the most famous bohemian artists of the 20th century. Legends are told about Modigliani’s life – his eccentric nature, his bragging, emotional twists, passionate affairs with writers Anna Akhmatova and Beatrice Hastings, and artist Jeanne Hébuterne, a dream to mount Parnassus and his rivalry with Picasso, health problems and the onset of tuberculosis that he tried to conceal by consuming alcohol and drugs excessively – it all provides colourful material for the birth of an astonishing stage-work.



Alena Shkatula and Maksim Chukarjov

JULY 21.–27. 2014

Photos by Harri Rospu


/ Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet to the music of Jules Massenet

/ Performances on 13 and 22 February and 8 March 2014 /

Presenting the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet!


The central character is Manon, the most desirable courtesan in Paris, who becomes a refugee in Louisiana due to a dramatic chain of events. The music expresses Manon’s downfall from the world of pleasures to the frustrating hellhole. Sir Kenneth MacMillan created one of the most popular ballets of the 20th century for the Royal Ballet in 1974. Since then, Manon has been performed by top ballet companies as the dancing technique of the dancers has to be of high level. Manon was the last ballet Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur performed before returning to Estonia in 2009.


OPRERA GALA CHILDREN GALA Artistic director of the festival: Arne Mikk

/ Ballet by Gianluca Schiavoni

World premiere at the Estonian National Opera on 13 March 2014 / Performances on 15 and 28 March 2014 / Gianluca Schiavoni has created a ballet for the dancers of the Estonian National Ballet – a contemporary version of the famous myth of Medea with a new dramaturgy by Marco Gandini, a stunning and symbolic set design by Maria Rossi Franchi and Andrea Tocchio and costume design by Simona Morresi. Gianluca Schiavoni: “Medea, a sensual and powerful princess of mythical Colchide (a region corresponding to present Georgia), is a seductive sorceress, who abandons her country and her family for her love of a strong and handsome man called Jason. Yet he is not interested only in Medea’s love, but also in getting hold of the Golden Fleece, which is a symbol of power. Medea gains Jason’s love by giving him this symbol of power. Soon she gives birth to two boys. Once she realizes that Jason is betraying her with the King’s daughter, Glauce, she decides to take revenge by killing Glauce, and most terrible of all – by killing her own children.”

15.11.2013 - 31.03.2014 Grand exhibition in Tallinn Seaplane Harbour: more than 200 artifacts from the ocean bottom, recreations of the Ship’s rooms and stories of the passengers. WWW.SEAPLANEHARBOUR.COM

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I NEWS Success in Japan for the Estonian natural cosmetics brand JOIK

Whereas many businesses only dream of finding a way to access the Japanese market, JOIK – an Estonian company specializing in natural cosmetics - was specially invited by a representative of the Japanese Plaza chain after they spotted JOIK products on an Estonian fashion blog. “They liked the simple Nordic style of our products and the fact that they are handmade in Estonia,” explains Kadri Mäesalu, Marketing and Export Manager of the company. “Our products are natural, but at the same time luxurious, pretty and great-smelling.” Japan has become the largest export country of JOIK, followed by Finland, Norway, Latvia and Sweden. JOIK products can also be found in Paris in a pharmacy on Boulevard Haussmann. There are plans to grow, expanding the selection of products currently on sale, as well as the number of selling locations. Whereas today there are 25 locations in Japan where JOIK products are sold, the company plans to have its products in all 70 of the Plaza chain stores within the next three years. Recently, a special edition of JOIK candles made exclusively for Japanese market hit the shelves of Plaza stores. JOIK is an Estonian natural cosmetics brand. The whole skin-care range is paraben-free and contains no sulphates, mineral- or silicon oils or other toxic substances. JOIK products are not tested on animals.

E-piim set to enter Chinese market with baby-milk powder E-Piim, one of the largest cheese producers in Estonia, is the first company in the Baltic states to start producing quality de-mineralized whey powder (Demin 90), which is used in breast-milk substitutes. De-mineralized whey powder is a real niche product and, in order to make production profitable, companies need to access the Chinese market. The only whey production plant in the Baltic states, which was opened last summer in Järva-Jaani, is currently waiting for recognition from the Chinese Veterinary Board, in order to start selling whey powder to a Chinese milk producer next spring. Baby food is probably the most sensitive product in the entire food industry. Newborns have weak immune systems and the tiniest problems in food may bring about serious consequences. Therefore, every single ingredient in baby formula must be made of the best base products and produced according to the strictest quality standards. “There are especially high requirements for the ingredients of baby food: it has to be produced totally naturally, without colourants or additives,” explains Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim. In order to start producing de-mineralized whey powder, E-Piim rebuilt its entire dairy plant and procured equipment which is unique in the Baltic states. The construction process lasted for two years and the total investment was 5.5 million euros, one fifth of which came as EU aid. If everything proceeds according to plans, the large investment will be earned back within three years, as this product is very highly valued throughout the world.



The production volume of the plant will be 5,000 tons per year and half of this will be exported to China. The price per ton of whey powder suitable for baby food fluctuates around 2,000 euros on the world market. “The Chinese market is so immense that we could sell our entire production there, but we want to manage the risks. There are only a few producers of whey powder suitable for breast-milk substitute in Europe, we are the only company in the Baltic states and the price of this product is twice as high as that of normal whey powder,” adds Murakas. Murakas speaks highly of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Estonian diplomats are making great efforts in Beijing in order to receive the required recognition for export for the Republic of Estonia and the whey powder of E-Piim. There are around 18 million babies born in China each year, and they have to begin consuming breast-milk substitute at the age of 1.5 months because their mothers have to return to work. This year China eased its strict one-child-per-family policy and this will increase the demand for baby food in the near future. Baby food has been a very sensitive topic in China, which is on its way to becoming the most influential country in the world. As recently as 2008, the leader of the organization in charge of inspecting the quality of food had to step down because of a baby food scandal which had caused health problems for around 53,000 children.


Estonian organic food a growing trend Text: Toomas Kevvai / Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety, Research and Development, Ministry of Agriculture

At least every second young mother in Estonia is aware of the fact that organic food is trendy, good for nature and healthy. According to surveys, over 82 per cent of Estonian consumers would prefer to buy organic food. This is the reason for the rapid development of the Estonian organic food sector. Organic farming land makes up 15 per cent of Estonian farming land, placing Estonia in third place in the European Union. According to initial data from 2013, there are over 153,000 hectares of organic farming land in Estonia. In addition, nearly 130,000 hectares of natural areas, where people pick berries and mushrooms, are under organic monitoring. Therefore all necessary prerequisites exist for the production of organic food. The demand for environmentally sustainable and healthier foods is growing worldwide, and farmers may be certain that in the future this trend will continue to rise. One of the largest organic producers in Estonia – Saidafarm – received the title of “Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2013” for implementing large-scale sustainable and innovative production methods. The farm has 1,000 hectares of land and 500 animals, and it produces 17 different dairy products, most of which are organic.

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I STATE AND SOCIETY Since 1999, the number of Estonian organic producers has grown from 89 organic farms to 1,500. Two-thirds of Estonian organic producers raise animals, and this sector is characterised by the expansion of livestock. The number of organic sheep and cattle (especially beef cattle) has almost doubled in the last five years. For example, in 2012 the share of organic lamb meat made up nearly 36% of all lamb meat production in Estonia. There are approximately 180 processors and distributors of organic production, and due to increasing demand and support for the development of organic farming, this figure is growing fast. In the next few years, the financial support for organic farming under the Rural Development Plan will mostly focus on increasing organic production and processing. Organic producers themselves are cooperating more actively in order to increase their capacity to enter the market with their products. In 2012, processed organic production comprised 45% of grain and legume products, 9% of dairy products, 14% of fruits and vegetables, 7% of ordinary bakers’ wares and confectionery products, and 11% of meat products. New products on the market included spirits/vodka, soy and fish products and yeast. For example the organic bakery goods under the label “Pagar Võtaks!” (Baker Would Take It! – ed.) and La Muu’s organic ice cream, which both came onto the market in 2012, regularly sell out due to high demand. When it comes to the export of the main organic food groups – grain products and berries – Estonia has established good contacts in Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Italy. The largest organic grain terminal in the Baltic states, which was opened this autumn, can hold up to 17,000 tons of grain, and this will help to increase exports.

Text: Taavi Kand / Head of the Trade and Agro-Food Department, Ministry of Agriculture

The Estonian food industry is small but smart Have you noticed that a small piece of high-quality chocolate is more satisfying than a whole bar of average chocolate? The Estonian food industry is small, but it continues to surprise with new exciting flavours. It should be clear from the start that, in comparison to neighbouring countries and competitors, the Estonian food industry is very small. For example, the annual turnover of the European Union food and beverage industry exceeds a trillion euros, but Estonia’s share is just 1.5 billion, or approximately 0.15%. The Latvian food industry is bigger by about a couple of hundred million euros and the Lithuanian food industry is twice as large; the Finnish industry is seven times bigger and the Swedish industry ten times bigger. Yet the Estonian food industry continues to grow. Its flagships are the milk, meat and beverage industries, which form over a half of the entire production value. In 2012, the Estonian food industry had the largest percentage growth in production volume in the entire European Union.

Internationally acclaimed cheese

Toomas Kevvai



Estonia is special and successful because we see our smallness as an opportunity. Small means flexible: it is easy to test new solutions here. This applies equally in the field of e-state services and in the food industry. Small production volumes help us to be flexible, which means we can be successful in niche markets where small production volumes and innovation matter. The innovative Estonian approach has won international recognition and brought Estonian cheeses gold and bronze quality awards from the German Society of Agriculture DLG. The innovativeness of the Estonian food industry is guaranteed by

Taavi Kand

Estonian consumers, who are used to having a broad choice of products. The introduction of new surprising flavours is commonplace. We tend to take it for granted that every now and then yet another specialflavour yoghurt will appear on supermarket shelves, or that there will be a product combining the best qualities of black and white bread.

The world’s best female inventor and functional milk Here are some examples from recent years. About a third of the Estonian food industry is the dairy industry, which has worked hard in collaboration with scientists from the University of Tartu and the BioCompetence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products. This collaboration has led to the development of two product lines with high added value: Hellus milk products, enriched with the bacterium Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3®, produced by AS Tere, and Harmony cheese, enriched with Lactobacillus plantarum Tensia®, produced by E-Piim. The Hellus product range helps to boost the body’s defence mechanisms, and the Harmony “heart-cheese” is believed to lower blood pressure. Both of these products have won international recognition as innovative products. One of the scientists – Professor Marika Mikelsaar – received a gold medal for global female inventors and innovators for her discovery of the ME-3 bacterium.

Smart food E-Piim, the producer of Harmony cheese, is also the first producer in the Baltic states of high quality de-mineralized whey powder (Demin 90), which is used in breast-milk substitutes. Producing de-mineralized whey powder is a great opportunity to use the leftover whey from cheese production. Just a few years ago, whey was considered a nuisance which was placed in animal feed or even used in cleaning solvents. Industries

often had to pay to get rid of it. Today the whole world is open to buying whey and the company is planning to access the Chinese market. Consumers all over the world are becoming increasingly informed and demanding about food. A demanding consumer offers opportunities for smaller producers. This suits the Estonian food industry and local producers. Consumer expectations and wishes are studied thoroughly all over the world, and the following trends are clear: food is expected to offer pleasure, be healthy, nutritious and comfortable to consume, and should be produced ethically and sustainably. In order to meet all of these demands, the food industry must develop and innovate continuously.

The importance of support Through various measures, the European Union taxpayers have supported development work and investments in the food industry. After all, the aim of policies at the EU level is to enable member states to produce products with high added value which are competitive in export markets. For Estonia, this goal is perhaps more important than for other member states, because our own domestic market is small. Hence, in the next few years investments in the food industry will be made via the new Rural Development Plan. The Estonian food industry is able to meet its domestic needs for the main food products, and even more; for example, our dairy production meets 170% of our own needs. Therefore, the Estonian food industry exports approximately a third of its production and this is predicted to grow in the future. We have enough tasty food to share with others. Our products for domestic and foreign markets are special because they include a whole lot of science and know-how.

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At a time when gender equality is a subject of heated social debate and there is talk of establishing gender quotas for corporation managers in the European Union, Premia Foods is chaired by a young and dynamic Estonian woman, Katre K천vask. Life in Estonia visited her in the last days of 2013 to talk about the past, present and future of the corporation.

Katre K천vask:

Premia Foods owes its market leader status to a great team 12


First, please tell the readers a little about yourself. What is your educational background and professional history before becoming the Chair of Premia Foods? I graduated from the University of Tartu in 1998 with a degree in Marketing and Foreign Trade. In 2006, I became the Marketing Director and a board member of the AS Premia Tallinn Cold Storage Plant and, in 2009, a board member of Premia Foods. Last May, I was appointed the Chair of Premia Foods. Hence, I have been involved with the company for seven years.

As chair of a large corporation, you must have stressful and long working days. How do you charge your batteries outside working time? I try to play as much golf as possible, do sports, read professional and other literature and travel. My work also involves a lot of travel and I tend to spend half a week in Estonia and the other half in a target country connected to our activities. During holidays, I try to find the time to visit more exotic countries.

What kind of personal characteristics have helped you in your career? In a management position, one always benefits from rationality in decision-making, understanding the business and, of course, dedication. These are the principles I have tried to follow. In addition, I would like to emphasize the importance of a good team: Premia would not be a market leader today without dedicated professionals and great team spirit.

What kind of a company is Premia Foods and how has it developed into a modern corporation? Premia Foods is a publicly traded food company on the Nasdaq OMX Tallinn Stock Exchange. We are active in six states – the Baltics, Russia, Finland and Sweden – and in five target markets in three different business segments: ice cream, chilled fishery products, and frozen foods. Our main labels are Premia, Eriti Rammus, Heimon Gourmet, Väike Tom, Sahharnõi Rozhok, Baltiiskoje, Klasika, Maahärra, Viking, Natali and Bueno!. I am proud to say that Premia Foods is among the leading labels in all business segments in the target markets. Approximately 40% of the turnover of Premia Foods comes from fish and fishery products, nearly 37% from ice-cream and the rest from the frozen foods business. The company is managed from Tallinn and we employ approximately 750 people. Export makes up nearly 70% of the turnover of Premia. The history of Premia Foods in Estonia dates back to the founding of the Premia Tallinn Cold Storage Plant in 1956. This predecessor of the company began ice-cream production in 1956, being the first and by now

the oldest ice-cream producer in Estonia. Today’s management came to office in 2006 during an ownership change and, since then, Premia has grown from an Estonian ice-cream producer to a large international food corporation, and is among the market leaders in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and St Petersburg, Russia.

Please tell us more about the strategy of the corporation. Where are you active and do you have enlargement plans? What are your largest export markets? Our aim is to be among the three leading labels in all of our target markets. This is already a reality: Premia is the largest ice-cream producer in Estonia, with about a 40% market share (almost double the share of the next largest producer); in Finland, we are the leading or the second-leading producer of packaged fish products; in Latvia, we are the second largest ice-cream producer, and we rank between second and fourth place in Lithuania. We are third in the St Petersburg ice-cream market and between first and second in the frozen goods market of the Baltic states. As I said, export makes up 70% of Premia’s turnover and our competitiveness in export markets is undoubtedly critically important. But we see development potential in our business segment in all target markets. Therefore, there are plenty of challenges ahead.

What are the strengths of the company? Premia’s strengths are our brands and our people. One of the biggest values of Premia Foods is our team. The different cultural backgrounds and the extensive experience of the whole team have been essential ingredients in outstanding product development and the continuing popularity of our labels. And although our great team and team spirit are values which are not directly visible on balance sheets, we have achieved excellent economic results precisely because of the dedication of all staff members.

What are the key aspects which help the company to develop and stand out from the competition? We are focused on building our brands, as we see a competitive edge here for Premia. This, in turn, places very high demands on our product development and marketing and sales activity. Product development must make our development sustainable and this is something we focus on all year round in all business segments. As markets and products are very different, it is important to employ the best professionals and, therefore, the team plays a very great role in guaranteeing our success. The central focus of our business activity is on brands which are accepted and loved by consumers, children and adults alike. Premia Foods considers it very important to meet the expectations of our consumers through strengthening existing brands and introducing new ones. Yet the main characteristic is dedication to high quality and innovation, as these are the keywords which help you to stand out from the competition.

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Premia Foods is a publicly traded food company on the Nasdaq OMX Tallinn Stock Exchange.

You mentioned that markets and products vary. Are there different trends in different regions? Premia has three different business segments and five different target markets. All of those markets and segments are different, specific and competitive. The simplest example can be given with ice-cream: in Estonia people like the simple Scandinavian style in taste and colour of ice cream and its packaging, but in Lithuania it is totally different and people like the most colourful and sweetest products. The market in St Petersburg is extremely conservative when it comes to flavours and preferred labels, and our strengths there are the tested recipes and some of the most popular and established labels in the area.

Let’s talk about different segments and begin with ice-cream. All Estonians know Premia ice creams: adults remember “Eskimo” ice-cream from their childhood, and children today love “Väike Tom” and “Lotte”. Today there is a growing choice of labels on the market, offering something for every taste. What are the ice-cream trends and where is Premia going in this segment? 80% of our product range are ice-creams and two-thirds of ice-cream produced by Premia is exported. Premia ice-creams do not contain corn syrup, transfats, preservatives or artificial colourings. It is true that the ice-cream market has become very diverse in the Baltic states and the competition is fierce. Since the economic crisis, more expensive products have become available, with either exotic or higher quality ingredients. This of course is welcomed by ice-cream lovers and producers. There is room for product development and each summer brings new exciting discoveries. Only time will tell where



the ice-cream market is headed, but it is clear that people are looking for ever more thrilling tastes and formats. At the same time, the brand Eriti Rammus (especially rich – ed.) continues to lead in the Estonian ice-cream market. People love its rich taste, which is very pure and of high quality. Estonian ice-cream lovers prefer quality and, on the basis of this, Premia hopes to offer pleasant surprises to ice-cream fans in the future.

Recently Premia Foods invested 750 thousand euros to modernize the equipment of its ice-cream plant in Tallinn. What was the reason for and nature of this investment? As part of the investment, we purchased a production line for popsicle ice-cream from Tetra Pak for our Tallinn plant. This enables us to increase the hourly speed of production by 50%. In addition, the new production line helps to save on labour and energy costs and provides opportunities for product innovation. Premia has also invested in a new cone ice-cream packaging machine, which enables us to double the packaging speed of the leading icecream cones on the market, especially the ones sold under the label “Eriti Rammus”. This has led to a growing production volume and more effective production in the cone ice-cream line. The basis for Premia’s success in the ice-cream market is continuous innovation and the growth of production efficiency. Premia’s strength are our valuable brands, which have made us a market leader in the ice-cream market in Estonia and the other Baltic countries. Those investments were essential in order to strengthen our position and guarantee sustainable development. Among other things, they also give us the opportunity to please our customers in all target markets with new exciting products in the near future.

All of the production units and target markets of Premia are situated by the sea. People who live in coastal areas usually cannot imagine their lives without fish. Fish and fishery products are the second largest business segment of Premia. The competitive advantage of Premia in this segment is vertical integration: the control of the entire value chain, from fingerlings to the sales of the end product. Our fish farms are located in the mountain lakes of northern Sweden and in the Finnish archipelago near Turku. Fish processing takes place on Saaremaa and in a factory near Hämeenlinna in Finland. The end product is mostly sold in Finland, but also in the Baltic countries. We farm rainbow trout and common whitefish, which cover about 40% of our entire raw material demand. The rest, mostly salmon, we buy from Norway. In Finland, Premia products are sold under the label Heimon Kala, which is a long-established brand in Finland. In the Baltic states, the products are available under the Viking brand. As mentioned, we share first place in Finland in the market of chilled fishery products, and we are continuously working on product development to offer a wider selection to customers. In the last couple of years, we have worked on developing the products of the Horeca segment and our turnover in this sector grew over 80% last year.

Research indicates that frozen vegetables are healthier than fresh vegetables available in our supermarkets, because the vegetables which are frozen are fresher at the point of freezing. Frozen products make up the third largest segment of Premia and most households know them well. What is the product range of Premia’s frozen products like? In the Baltic states, Premia sells the entire range of frozen products, from vegetables to meat and fish products, and our most famous labels

in Estonia are Maahärra, Pealinna and Viking. We purchase all of our frozen products from long-term partners and, as with ice-cream and fish, we pay a lot of attention to quality and product development in this segment. Frozen products have many advantages in everyday life: when time is limited, it is easy to prepare a soup for dinner using our vegetables and frozen meatballs, and it should be mentioned that frozen vegetables still contain all their vitamins. Or an equally tasty meal can be made combining vegetables and Viking fish products. The popularity of the label Maahärra and the other aforementioned labels shows that people have found them in the shops and approve of their quality and taste. This inspires us to bring more new and exciting taste combinations onto the market.

Premia has many partners, including other large producers in Estonia, such as TERE. Why do you need this cooperation and what products are involved? Our collaboration with Tere covers several segments. One of the most exciting projects has been the development of the product range Hellus, during which we brought an ice-cream containing the ME-3 bacteria onto the market. There are other cooperation projects: for example, with Kalev we have expanded their Mesikäpp brand and in St Petersburg we have started a project with the confectionery producer Krupskaja in order to expand their label Mishka na Severe. Those kinds of projects offer a unique opportunity to bring products onto the market which have clear target groups and to give an impetus to product development, using advantages provided by already existing strong brands.

Why should consumers choose Premia products? Premia is and will continue to be a sign of quality, innovation and caring. These are the thoughts which underpin the development of our new products and labels. In this way, we create the opportunity for people to choose our products whilst doing their daily shopping.

80% of Premia’s product range are ice-creams which do not contain corn syrup, transfats, preservatives or artificial colourings.

WINTER 2013 / 2014




Tartu – a town of good bacteria Senior researcher Epp Songisepp has received international recognition for her work in developing the patented probiotic bacterium lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA that is used in the Sßdamejuust and lactobacillus plantarum E-98 that is used in the silage additive NordSil.


Text: Holger Roonemaa / Photos: Scanpix

In the last few years, the Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products (BioCC), based in Tartu, has discovered and researched previously unknown Lactobacillus strains and made them work for the benefit of consumers. In addition to having been nominated as the best Tartu company some years ago, BioCC is the owner of 20 patents, and 11 patent applications are pending in Estonia, Europe, the USA, Russia, Korea and Japan. The company, its products and staff have received several international awards.

We all know that the prevalence of chronic diseases is an issue of rising importance today and treatment is expensive,” says Ene Tammsaar, Chair of the Board of BioCC. There are various ways to promote and maintain health and prevent the onset of disease; innovation in the food industry is one example. “I am talking about developing quality functional foods which help to maintain good health,” says Tammsaar, who adds that, in contrast to the treatment of chronic diseases, consuming functional foods helps to lower the risk of disease development and boost the physiological functions of the body. “However, creating functional foods is not just about dairy plants starting to produce better milk; it begins with animal breeding, monitoring their health and developing better feeds and feed additives. The other direction is adding probiotic bacteria to dairy products and creating functional foods, as well as creating new feed additives and animal probiotics.”

Ene Tammsaar

One such bacterium, which BioCC studies and which is already present on the market in various products, has the scientific name Lactobacillus plantarum E-98 NCIMB 30236, or simply E-98. “Hay silage is the main fodder for cattle, but it is difficult to guarantee high quality,” says

Who makes up BioCC? • • • • •

Estonian University of Life Sciences University of Tartu Dairy cooperative E-Piim Estonian Cooperative of Breeders Starter ST Plc

Tammsaar. This is where the Lactobacillus E-98 isolated by BioCC scientists comes into play, as it improves the fermentation of silage. “We have discovered that E-98 quickly produces a lot of lactic acid, which helps to create an acidic environment in silage faster and preserves the fodder so that there are fewer butyric acid-producing bacteria (clostridia) and, therefore, the silage has better value as feed,” explains Tammsaar. It may sound complicated. Suffice it to say that the bacterium studied by Tartu scientists has received the green light from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), and it is listed in the European Union Register of Feed Additives in the category of technological additives, under functional groups of silage additives. This means that feed additives containing E-98 may be sold in the European Union member states without further testing. “In the case of the bacterium E-98, we can claim that it is the greatest achievement in agricultural innovation in Estonia and the Baltic states,” Tammsaar states proudly. The bacterium E-98 is today also part of production. BioCC has signed a license agreement with Starter ST LLC, which carried out product development and developed NordSil, a silage additive containing E-98. “It is currently available on the Estonian market, but we hope to take the Estonian product to our neighbouring markets: Russia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus,” says Tammsaar. E-98 has received the Gold medal in the field of biotechnology in KIWIE 2013 and a special recognition at the 4th Bi-Annual International EUWIIN Exhibition, Conference & Award Ceremony.

BioCC has signed a license agreement with Starter ST LLC, which carried out product development and developed NordSil, a silage additive containing E-98.

"There are especially high requirements for the ingredients of baby food: it has to be produced totally naturally, without colourants or additives,” says Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim.

Estonian company to supply food for Chinese babies 

 At the end of 2013, the Estonian dairy producer E-Piim started a new whey processing line, which will enable the company to start exporting high quality whey powder to China in the near future. Whey powder is mainly used in breastmilk substitutes for babies.
“It is interesting that today the global lack of protein has led to a situation where whey, the leftover liquid from the cheese production process, is a more valuable product than cheese, which has always been a product with high added value,” says Tiina Saron, Head of the Estonian Dairy Association. “Nobody wanted whey before and now everyone wants whey, more than cheese,” she explains. 
E-Piim is the only producer in the Baltic states with technology based on electrolysis, which separates salt from whey and makes it possible to produce pure whey protein. Thus, E-Piim is able to create a very high quality protein which is one ingredient in breast-milk substitute.  Of course, the most attractive market for whey powder is China, the biggest country in the world, where millions of babies are born each year. “There is huge demand for baby food in China and, once all the administrative obstacles have been removed, we will have the opportunity to export whey powder to China,” says Saron. 

WINTER 2013 / 2014




The Grand Old Lady of Estonian microbiology, Professor Marika Mikelsaar, is one of the founders of the ME-3 bacterium that is used in the Dr. Hellus dairy products series.

Good for the health Products enriched with pro-biotics are also produced by other companies, such as AS Tere, whose yoghurts, kefirs, milks and cheeses of the product line “Hellus” contain the lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 and Omega 3 fatty acids or, in other words, microscopic capsules of fish oil. This lactobacillus was discovered by a scientist at the University of Tartu and has both antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. The production of Dr Hellus products was preceded by long-term collaboration in investigating the bacterium at the Institutes of Microbiology and Biochemistry, which was led by Professors Marika Mikelsaar and Mihkel Zilmer. The health benefits of ME-3 are numerous and the list of its useful properties long and awe-inspiring. This culture improves liver and intestine functioning, increases resistance to chronic diseases and reduces excessive blood cholesterol. Among its many benefits, the bacterium stem even has potential uses in the rehabilitative treatment of stroke patients. At the SIAL 2008 fair in Paris in October, the Dr Hellus yoghurts, with their Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 and Omega 3 fatty acids, and their glazed cheeses, which contain Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3, were selected as part of the fair’s official innovative and trend-setting range of products in the category of products with original recipes and health benefits.



As the quality of animal fodder increases thanks to the bacterium E-98, milk from the cows also has a higher quality, which leads to better quality dairy products on our tables. Another significant discovery of BioCC in the world of bacteria becomes important in this final phase: healthier food. The bacterium Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA, or simply TENSIA, was isolated by Estonian scientists from a healthy Estonian child and the biggest value of this bacterium is that it produces compounds which lower blood pressure. “TENSIA produces special peptides and other compounds which have been found to relax blood vessels. The strain helps to protect the human body from oxidative stress and increases the number of useful lactobacilli in the gut,” explains Tammsaar. At first the scientists did not assume that their research would eventually lead to the discovery of a lactobacillus that would support the function of the cardiovascular system and lower blood pressure. “When we started, we proposed that we should produce a cheese which would protect against infections and diseases and fight listeria, salmonella and other bacteria present in food products”, remembers Tartu University Professor Emeritus Marika Mikelsaar, the former head of the working group. “Initially, we chose 30 special lactobacilli strains existent in human intestines. Later

Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA has received several awards: the first prize and the Finnish Quality Innovation Award 2010, the Gold Prize at the Korean International Women’s Intervention and Exposition (KIWIE) in 2009 and the first prize in 2010, and a special award of the Innovation for Enterprise, Science and Technology in Europe 2009 (Helsinki, Finland) by the EUWIIN (European Union of Women Inventors and Innovators Network).

the research continued on a trial-and-error basis in order to determine the best strain. We ended up with the pro-biotic lactobacillus strain Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA, which did not perish during cheese production and stayed viable. The bacterium’s ability to survive in cheese was of determining importance for the pro-biotic.” In the scientific experiments it became evident that TENSIA would not help against salmonella as expected; instead, the beneficial effect on blood pressure was discovered. During the years, numerous clinical studies have been carried out with TENSIA in order to prove its functional characteristics. For example, the experimental group consumed cheese containing the bacterium and the control group consumed regular cheese without the bacterium. The results show that cheese with TENSIA particularly helps people with elevated blood pressure, people with systolic blood pressure higher than 130mmHg, but who have not been diagnosed with arterial hypertension. “This means they do not have a problem yet, but they need to watch their health, and change their diet and lifestyle, e.g. get more exercise,” explains Tammsaar. Clinical studies confirm that people with this condition benefit from eating a daily amount of 50 grams of Südamejuust (heart-friendly cheese – ed.) for three to four weeks in order to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. “At the same time, we have proved that consumption of Südamejuust does not increase the level of cholesterol or LDL cholesterol (i.e. ‘bad cholesterol’) or lead to an increase in body weight,” she added.

The healthy Südamejuust can be eaten on its own or used in the preparation of various healthy dishes.

TENSIA patent “Isolated microorganism strain *Lactobacillus plantarum* Tensia DSM 21380 as antimicrobial and antihypertensive probiotic, food product and composition comprising said microorganism and use of said microorganism for preparation of antihypertensive medicine and method for suppressing pathogens and nonstarter lactobacilli in food product”, inventors Epp Songisepp, Marika Mikelsaar, Merle Rätsep, Mihkel Zilmer, Pirje Hütt, Meeme Utt, Kersti Zilmer, Janne Üksti, Siiri Kõljalg. Patent owner: Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products (Tervisliku Piima Biotehnoloogiate Arenduskeskus OÜ). EP2309870 is validated in the following countries: European patent EP2309870, is validated in the 11 countries Estonian patent EE05340; Russian Patent RU2477750.

The probiotic Harmony™ Südamejuust was created in cooperation between the Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products, the University of Tartu, the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the company E-Piim. To use the bacterium, BioCC has signed a license agreement with E-Piim Tootmine AS, the company which produces Südamejuust with TENSIA. Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim, explains that the Südamejuust is a common Edam-type cheese which is made special by TENSIA bacterium. The cheese is in shops in small packages of 150 grams. Südamejuust has been named the Best Estonian Dairy Product in the contest “The Best food in Estonia 2010". Tiina Saron, Head of Dairy Union, an umbrella organisation for Estonian dairy producers, says that although no pro-biotic product

Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim, explains that the motivation for putting a new, pro-biotic cheese into production was the need to be more competitive.

has received an official certificate from the European Union, the Moscow Food Institute carried out clinical research on Südamejuust and, on the basis of those results, they can claim that this cheese has a beneficial effect on health. This means that Südamejuust is sold as a functional food in Russia in specially marked packaging, and on the Russian market it can be officially claimed that Südamejuust improves your health. “I went to Russia some weeks ago and saw that there was a large advertising campaign going on for Südamejuust,” says Saron. According to her, the Russian market offers great opportunities for Estonian dairy producers because, firstly, it is much larger than the domestic market and, secondly, due to proximity, it is easier for Estonian businesses to access the Russian market than, for example, the German market. “We are exporting practically all of our dairy product groups to Russia, but mostly cheese and yoghurts.”

An invention of the University of Tartu determines the quality of milk at the milking stage Recently, the University of Tartu received a European patent which makes it possible to determine traces of antibiotics in milk during the milking process, thereby decreasing the amount of waste milk and reducing large production losses. “One of the main problems for milk producers is cattle illnesses, which have an impact on the volume and quality of milk. Those illnesses are mostly treated with various antibiotics, which also reach the milk yielded by cows during treatment. In order to prevent traces of medication from reaching human food, the milk yielded by cows during treatment and during the following ban period is utilized, which means large production losses. We have approximately 30,000 tons of waste milk in Estonia each year,” explains Toonika Rinken, leader of the research group and Senior Researcher of Colloid and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Tartu. This innovation makes it possible to identify traces of the most commonly used antibiotics in milk during the actual milking process. “The device makes it possible to identify cases where the level of medications or degradation compounds in yielded milk is too high and to remove such milk fast,” Rinken explains, adding that this enables them to avoid large volumes of milk being contaminated with residues of medications and to improve the quality of milk produced. It also leads to reduced costs related to waste milk. WINTER 2013 / 2014



I SCIENCE & INNOVATION According to Riin Ehin, the Competence Centre for Cancer Research has developed 28 molecular genetic tests which aim to predict genetic risk for certain types of cancer and adjust treatments for cancer.

Estonia makes its way onto the world map with new cancer medication Life in Estonia visited the Competence Centre for Cancer Research to find out which of their projects may reach the world market in the near future

Text: Holger Roonemaa Photos: Atko Januson and Jaanar Nikker In a suburb of Tallinn, next to the Skype Estonia Development Centre, a group of focussed scientists are working on a drug candidate called Virexxa. If all goes well, this drug meant for treating rare forms of endometrial cancer will reach the market within the next two years. A comparison with Skype is not arbitrary, as this parallel was drawn by Indrek Kasela from the Amber Trust Foundation, one of the organizations that has invested in the development of this drug candidate. The drug candidate is being developed in collaboration with Kevelt Ltd., Tallinn University of Technology and the North Estonian Medical Centre.



CCCR’s partners are: Tallinn University of Technology University of Tartu North Estonia Medical Centre Trial Form Support TFS AB CeMines Estonia Ltd Cambrex Tallinn Ltd Kevelt Ltd Celecure Ltd Inbio Ltd IB Genetics Ltd Protobios Ltd SIA Pharmidea Quattromed HTI Laborid Ltd Genecode Ltd

When the current clinical trials of Virexxa are completed and the drug is produced in Tallinn, it will mark a significant step for the entire Estonian pharmaceutical industry, directly and symbolically. Estonia will be the first former eastern bloc country able to produce drugs which are certified by the European and US markets. However, Virexxa is not the only cancer drug candidate in development in Tallinn. The Competence Centre for Cancer Research (CCCR), which aims to develop cancer drug candidates and diagnostic platforms, was founded in Tallinn nine years ago in cooperation between Estonian universities, Enterprise Estonia and several local and foreign biotechnology companies. “A significant expertise in cancer research already existed in Estonia, which is why it was considered reasonable to bring it all under one roof,” explains Andres Valkna, Scientific Expert of CCCR. He explains that the aim of CCCR is not just academic research, but also practical: to develop the commercial value of cancer technologies. Simply put, this means developing and patenting drug candidates, as well as developing, licensing and selling services necessary for diagnostics.

A brief explanation of how the pharmaceutical industry works is necessary. Normally, the process of developing a new medical drug lasts 10-15 years, from the discovery which forms the basis for development to receiving a license to market the drug. The whole process costs millions of euros. Very broadly, this development process can be divided into two parts: pre-trial clinical research and clinical trials. The general business model of small companies such as CCCR is to sell their projects in one phase or another to large pharmaceutical companies. The price of the transaction depends directly on which phase of research the drug is in at the time of the transaction. “Drug candidates that have passed clinical trials cost significantly more than drug candidates that are still in the pre-clinical research phase,” explains Valkna. Therefore, the main strategy of biotechnology companies is to do the homework for the giants, in other words to sell drug projects which have already passed clinical trials. The main reason is that the clinical trial phase is very expensive, timeconsuming and risky.

Because the development of a drug candidate takes a lot of time, developers must always have several projects in different phases in the pipeline. “Some work always needs to come in, something always has to be in development, and something always has to come out of the pipeline,” says Valkna. Currently there are fourteen projects in different phases of development in the CCCR portfolio. Whereas some projects are still at the basic research level, other drug candidates are already in the phase of clinical trials. For example, the first project to be sold was a cancer drug candidate which was at the preclinical development stage. A project initiated by a spin-off company established by scientists of the Tallinn University of Technology was bought by the US stock company Cambrex, founded by Alfred Nobel. CCCR invites all researchers, universities and entrepreneurs interested in this field to contact them. CCCR is definitely looking for new partners with new ideas. CCCR considers adding new projects to the portfolio to be very important.

WINTER 2013 / 2014



I SCIENCE & INNOVATION Genes serving scientists Another CCCR project that has proven to be successful comes from the field of diagnostics. CCCR has developed 28 molecular genetic tests which aim to predict genetic risk for certain types of cancer and adjust treatments for cancer. “In certain kinds of cancer, some drugs are unsuitable, because instead of helping they make the patient’s condition worse,” explains Riin Ehin, Chair of the Board of CCCR. With the help of those tests, Estonian hospitals have been able to offer better treatment to over 600 patients. If the test is prescribed by an oncologist, it is also paid for by the National Health Insurance Board. Currently, the test is used for the diagnosis of breast, lung and intestine cancer, and the CCCR is continuing to develop the test for other forms of cancer. The potential impact of the test is best illustrated by the fact that three years ago CCCR received a special quality innovation prize for this project from the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen.

Genetic diet plan Another partner of CCCR, IB Genetics, has developed the trademark FiguraGen, which is not linked to the treatment or diagnosis of cancers, but works on developing lifestyle tests. For instance, FiguraGen offers a health-risk assessment, which is linked to weight problems. About half of the population is overweight or obese. The FiguraGen test can be bought at a pharmacy or via the web. A person can take a scraping from inside the mouth and send it off for laboratory analysis. The genetic analysis then forms the basis for researchers to develop individualised nutritional recommendations and nutrition experts compile a personalised menu. Other tests can show lactose intolerance and also risks linked to deficiencies of certain vitamins. Each person then has the choice of whether and how to act upon the information. At the moment, FiguraGen offers this test kit only on the Estonian market, but the company is negotiating with potential representatives in other countries.



What does the future hold? Let us look ahead to the most exciting projects of CCCR which will start to take shape in the next few years. We have already mentioned Virexxa, which is being developed by Kevelt Ltd., one of the partners of CCCR. In addition, the same company has another drug candidate for a rare form of cancer in the phase of clinical trials called Oncohist, which is meant for the treatment of two rare types of leukaemia.

One of the joint strategies of CCCR and its partners is to focus on the development of drug candidates for rare cancer types based on clear logic. “Rare diseases are called orphan diseases, and both European and US medical agencies have made the development of drug candidates for the treatment of those illnesses much easier,” explains Riin Ehin. When a drug candidate has already proven to be very effective during the first clinical trials, and if a drug for precisely that type of cancer does not exist on the market, it is possible to bring it to the market. An orphan drug candidate meant for the treatment of a rare type of cancer is a good opportunity for smaller companies because it enables them to develop their drug candidate faster, at a better price, and the competition from corporations is not as high. There is also a social and human aspect involved: CCCR and its partners consider it important to find treatment solutions for those people who suffer from rare cancers that do not have any particularly effective treatments. Just as Kevelt is set to bring drugs for the treatment of rare types of cancer to the market within the next couple of years, another partner of CCCR – Protobios Ltd – has also reached the phase of clinical trials. Protobios approaches cancer from another direction. The researchers of the company have developed a unique analysis method which is used to look for cancer markers in the patient’s blood. “For example, in breast cancer, cancer markers circulate in the patient’s blood long before mammography shows a positive result. With our analysis, it is possible to diagnose breast cancer in an extremely early phase,“ explains Ehin.

Tallinn University of Technology searches for drugs for serious illnesses

Cancer vaccine hidden in plant virus Clinical trials of this method are currently ongoing in Estonian hospitals and the method is used primarily when a doctor suspects a false positive or a false negative mammography result. “Our test helps to adjust the mammography result,” says Ehin. She points out several advantages of the marker test. Firstly, it is possible to diagnose cancer or the recurrence of cancer with a simple blood test. Secondly, it is possible to screen the population sufficiently. The third reason is the lower price. Fourthly, mammography involves only a small amount of radiation. “The early diagnosis is extremely important as it means better chances of recovery,” explains Ehin, and adds that often patients receive a cancer diagnosis when there has already been metastasis and the cancer has spread throughout the body.

Innovative approach starves cancer Once the cancer has developed, there are many solutions to help to fight it. Another partner of CCCR - Celecure Ltd – is developing a drug candidate which approaches cancer indirectly. “In a healthy adult body, no new blood vessels develop, but new ones are created, for example, when a wound heals. Cancer takes advantage of such a situation and, similarly to healing a wound, it stimulates the growth of the vessels surrounding the cancer,” Ehin explains. Without new vessels the cancer cannot grow as it will be without oxygen and nutrition. Celecure researchers are developing a drug candidate which stops the development of new blood vessels around primary cancer.

Erkki Truve, Vice Rector for Research at the Tallinn University of Technology, told Life in Estonia about three projects which are all at an initial stage but, if successful, would alleviate the conditions of thousands of ill people around the world.

Kevelt Ltd is cooperating with the researchers of the Tallinn University of Technology to develop a therapeutic vaccine against melanoma, in other words a vaccine which besides prevention also has healing properties. The scientists chose to focus on melanoma, as the human body has difficulties in recognizing this difficult form of skin cancer. This is due to the fact that, for the immune system, the development of a melanoma resembles a process which is similar to tanning and by the time the body realizes that something is wrong, the cancer has already developed too far. In order to help the body and to activate it to fight the cancer, scientists are using a “Trojan horse”. “They take a plant virus capsule, remove the RNA and replace it with information from a melanoma. Subsequently, the capsule is injected into a human circulatory system and, as the body recognizes something alien, it automatically activates the immune system and kills the virus,” explains Ehin. When trials demonstrate its effectiveness with the melanoma, it can be developed for the treatment of other types of cancer.

The first project, developed at the Centre of Excellence in Chemical Biology by Margus Lopp, Mati Karelson and a virologist from the University of Tartu, Andres Merits, involves the design and synthesis of a whole family of new molecules that have antiviral effects. “In the long term, this project could grow into a treatment for such viruses as HIV and hepatitis C,“ says Truve.

Killer cells halted at the right moment

“Peep Palumaa heads another project, which is specifically studying Alzheimer’s disease,“ continues Truve. Alzheimer‘s develops when specific protein tangles develop between human brain cells, and this is caused by certain metals. As a result, neurons or nerve cells in the brain start to die. Palumaa’s research is about preventing the accumulations of metals in the tangles. “He is studying the process as a chemist, but the outcome also has a clinical dimension,“ says Truve.

In cooperation between the two largest hospitals in Estonia – the North Estonia Medical Centre and the Tartu University Clinic - and Celecure Ltd, a technology is being developed which will help to make the treatment of blood cancers more effective. Most readers are unaware of the fact that human blood contains natural killer cells. Natural killer cells play a big role in several processes linked to the treatment of blood cancers. CCCR and its partners have developed a method that makes it possible to grow natural killer cells in artificial conditions in clinically adequate quantities.

The second project, headed by Professors Tõnis Timmusk and Peep Palumaa, is in the field of neurobiology. In cooperation with the small Tallinn-based company Genecode Ltd, Timmusk’s lab is studying molecules which prevent nerve cells from dying. “Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, come into being because of dying nerve cells.“




Text: Arko Olesk / the daily newspaper Postimees & Tallinn University Photos: Lauri Kulpsoo

All genetic roads lead to Estonia

Tartu, Estonia, is the place to turn to when a nation tries to come to grips with the eternal question “Where do we come from?�. With the help of genes, the scientists at the Estonian Biocentre have traced the ancient migration of people, helping to establish the origins of, among others, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians.



Photo by Mait Metspalu

Finding the modern relatives The Estonian Biocentre has also helped to uncover the story of Native Americans and ancient Greenlanders, with the help of people who died thousands of years ago. The study of old DNA – genetic material recovered from old bones or human tissues – has become one of the hottest topics in science. Researchers have managed to sequence Neanderthal DNA and discover a previously unknown species of humans.

Estonian Biocentre researcher Chandana Basu Mallick is measuring skin pigmentation in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. All participants also gave the gene sample.

You can find all of human history contained in the basement of this modern science building. Standing in the busy main street of Tartu, not far from other buildings of the oldest and most renowned university of Estonia, the University of Tartu, the Estonian Biocentre houses tens of thousands of gene probes from various populations around the world. These genes tell stories that no book or person has been able to tell so far: tales of love and trekking at the dawn of mankind.

“Language and genes do not go together,” says Mait Metspalu, Vice Director of the Estonian Biocentre. “It is much easier to change your language than to change your genes.” And this is exactly what seems to have happened quite often during the course of history. For example, while the Estonian and Hungarian languages share the same roots, the genetic similarities between these two nations is much less than you would expect from the linguistic analysis. According to Metspalu, genetically everyone is most closely related to their neighbours.

Photo by: Thomas W Stafford, Jr

We all come from Africa; this fact has been known to science for a long time. The modern human, Homo sapiens, left Africa and started to conquer the world around 100,000 years ago. What happened next is less certain. By which routes did we spread around the world? Where in the family tree of mankind do all of the nations fall? This is where population genetics helps.

Before genetics, attempts to reconstruct the ancient past were mainly made with the help of archaeology or linguistics. Buried pots and bones helped to reconstruct ancient movements. Similarities and differences in languages were used to draw family trees of populations. Yet, these approaches can be misleading.

Cross section through the MA-1 individual’s humerus. The central void is the medullary cavity.

The Estonian Biocentre has been collaborating with Danish scientists who have managed to locate some of the oldest available DNA from modern humans. Most recently, they published, in the journal Nature, the genome analysis of a boy who lived 24,000 years ago on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. The analysis revealed that the people living in Siberia back then were not the same groups we might encounter there today. Rather, these people became the ancestors of modern Europeans and, more surprisingly, also Native Americans. Previously it was thought that Native Americans stemmed from the people currently living in East Asia. This analysis showed that Native Americans are a mixture of East Asian and (future) European people. In 2010, the team received another ancient surprise when analysing some old hair found in Greenland. The dark lock of hair belonged to a man who settled in Greenland some 4,000 year ago, during the “first wave of migration”. It was unclear who these people were: whether they were related to modern Greenlanders or to Native Americans or to some other group. DNA from the hair showed that these people were completely different from the Inuits currently inhabiting Greenland. They were also not related to Native Americans. Rather, their closest modern relatives are in Siberia and the Aleutian Islands. “When we reconstruct the demographic history of people and only use current variability, we can come up with all kinds of scenarios that have left no traces,” Metspalu explains. “People might have died out and modern DNA reveals nothing about that. This is why old DNA is important.”

WINTER 2013 / 2014



I SCIENCE & INNOVATION Burial of Mal'ta child redrawn from Gerasimov (1935), with photos of the plaque and swan from the burial and a representative Venus figurine from the excavation.

Hoping to find out where Estonians fit in is what got Estonian researchers doing population genetics in the first place. That was in the mid-1990s. Metspalu reminisces, “We had the idea that the general global structure was fixed and we only needed to find out where the place of Estonians was,” he says. “But we found out very quickly that this was not the case and that actually the field was quite unexplored. So we had to start working on the global level.”

Photo by: Kelly E Graf

This is the reason why the Estonian group has published several articles in such prestigious science journals as Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dealing with the ancestry of Native Americans, Indian tribes and Jewish population groups. Indian genetic prehistory was also the subject of Metspalu’s own doctoral thesis. Also, the Estonian Biocentre has several researchers from India who are studying this genetically very diverse subcontinent. “While Africa is the birthplace of mankind, India is its cradle,” Metspalu explains. “To understand how people came out of Africa and started to populate Eurasia, you need to start looking at India. To get to most of Eurasia, you at least have to pass through India.” That is where people went before populating the rest of the world. Some of the groups just passed through, while some stayed a little longer. But, either way, they left some of their genes behind by mixing with other groups.

The genetic structure of world population. Based on around 600,000 locations covering all human genome, this analysis highlights the similarities in genomes between different nations. The columns represent the weight of different components by individuals.

“How, when and where have populations been divided and who mixed with each other?” he asks in describing the main problems the research group is trying to solve.

Source: Estonian Biocentre



Photo by: Niobe Thompson

Lake Baikal in south-central Siberia, where Mal’ta is situated. Genome of the Mal’ta child revealed that an Upper Palaeolithic population from this region admixed with ancestors of present-day East Asians, giving rise to the First American gene pool.

All of these events can be traced from the genome thanks to two characteristics of genes. Firstly, they change. There is evolutionary pressure favouring certain gene variations over others. But there are also random mutations that occur over time and at certain rates, making each population genetically distinctive after some time and making it possible to calculate back to the common ancestor of different populations. Secondly, having sex allows genes to mix. The offspring always has half of the genes from the mother and half from the father. When one of the parents is from another population, this inserts some new variants into the gene pool and later helps geneticists to uncover when and where different groups mingled. For a long time, the main sources of this information were the Y-chromosome (which gets passed on from father to son) and mitochondrial DNA (which each child inherits from the mother). As sequencing techniques have developed and become cheaper, researchers have begun using more powerful tools.

They now use gene chips, which allow them to look at hundreds of thousands of single letter differences (SNPs) in the genome and gather even more information about similarities and differences between populations. The ultimate goal is already within reach: full genome sequencing. Reading all three billion base pairs that make up our genome will give scientists a unique window into the past. “Almost all demographic history has affected the length of shared pieces of the genome,” Metspalu says. “Looking at only one part of the DNA, such as the Y-chromosome, the role of chance is much bigger, and less common [gene] signals are more likely to get lost.” The complete genome also makes it possible to look for genes that affect our appearance. “The populations living in the cold north, for example, have shorter hands and legs and stockier bodies than the people of India,” Metspalu says. The Estonian Biocentre is currently preparing the biggest full genome database in the world – 300 individuals from one hundred Eurasian

populations – specifically meant for doing population genetics. Such full genome analysis has revealed, and will continue to reveal, surprises about our past. For example, Metspalu and his colleagues were involved in the analysis of the genome of an Aboriginal Australian. The data indicates another possible migration out of Africa. It might be that before the bulk of modern humans left Africa, a smaller group made their way along the Indian Ocean coast and some of their genes survive in Aboriginal Australians. “This is one of the central questions we want to investigate with our full genome data set,” Metspalu says. “Things might be more complicated that one migration out of Africa.” So we now know about Australians and Indians. But what about Estonians? Have the researchers finally managed to solve the problems they started investigating some 20 years ago? Metspalu bursts into laughter. “We would like to,” he says. “We are still working on it.”

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The trial of the most famous Estonian male cross-country skier, Andrus Veerpalu, in the international Court of Arbitration (CAS) became a match of scientists in which three relatively unknown Estonians beat the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Scientists saved the honour of a national hero

Text: Mihkel K채rmas / Photos: Scanpix



At the press conference. In the middle, Andrus Veerpalu; beside him, on the left, the lawyer Aivar Pilv and, on the right, his coach Mati Alaver. On either side of the table, Sulev Kõks and Anton Terasmaa, scientists of the University of Tartu and members of Veerpalu’s defence team.

In April 2011, the Estonian public received perhaps the biggest moral shock of recent years: one of the most beloved national sports heroes, the cross-country skier Andrus Veerpalu, tested positive for doping. This, among other things, explained why, a month earlier, the champion had suddenly pulled out of the Oslo World Championships, where he was considered to be one of the favourites in his preferred event—the 15-kilometre classic style—and instead announced that his skiing career was over. At the press conference of the Estonian Skiing Union, where the news was officially announced, the now 40-year-old double Olympic gold medallist and world champion swore that he had not used any prohibited substances. Many felt personally affected when the embodiment of the hard-working modest Estonian and the father of five broke down in front of journalists. Quickly the Facebook group “We believe Andrus Veerpalu” was created and over 60,000 people joined, a truly significant number for a small nation. Despite the emotional explanations of the athlete and his coaches, the doping panel of the International Ski Association (FIS) gave Veerpalu a three-year competition ban because of the traces of human growth hormone (HGH) in his blood. Veerpalu’s defence team decided to appeal to the Court of Arbitration (CAS), which postponed the decision on three occasions until, after two years of agony, on 26 March 2013, the next news bomb exploded: Veerpalu had been acquitted! “These have been the most difficult two years of my life and I hope no-one else has to experience what I have gone through. I am happy that justice has been done,” said the skier, emphasizing the input of the scientists on his team. “I am not sure whether we can call Veerpalu’s acquittal a triumph of Estonian scientists, but it certainly is the beginning of a triumph,” said Anton Terasmaa, a member of Veerpalu’s defence team and one of the three scientists who were able to prove that the growth hormone test internationally used for years is flawed. Doping hunters and competitors, however, were disappointed. Sarah Lewis, Secretary General of FIS, compared the case to speeding with an uncalibrated speedometer. “Veerpalu was caught doing 180 kilometers an hour, and the speed limit was 120. Then when they checked out the machine to measure speed, they showed that it may not have been accurate between 118 and 119, and at that speed there could be a false positive. And consequently, even though he had done 180, and

that’s not disputed, he was nevertheless given the benefit of the doubt because there was a fault in the machine,” said Lewis.

Battle of David and Goliath Athletes, functionaries and fans may or may not believe in Veerpalu’s innocence, but the decision has been taken and is not a matter of appeal. The case is special precisely because the scientists of the Estonian skier’s defence team achieved what many in the whole world no longer believed was achievable. They proved that the growth hormone test, which the powerful FIS and WADA—organisations which control millions of euros—have used for the last eight years is not reliable. The team of the David who successfully battled Goliath included three scientists of the University of Tartu – Sulev Kõks, Krista Fischer and Anton Terasmaa - who say they worked on their own initiative and without charging a fee. “I believe that their unbelievable professionalism and dedication will be properly acknowledged and rewarded,” said Veerpalu in gratitude after being acquitted. When the trio of volunteers first took on the case two years ago, they just had the handwritten statements of the skier, his trainer and physician: three pieces of paper stating that the athlete had not consumed any prohibited substances. Assuming that Veerpalu was telling the truth, the scientists started to look for a reason why the test showed the use of growth hormone. “At first we did not pay much attention to the testing methodology, because we did not believe that the results of years of work by other scientists would include principal flaws,” explains Doctor Fischer, a biostatistician and Senior Researcher at the Estonian Genome Centre of the University of Tartu. “We investigated whether Veerpalu’s genetic characteristics might explain a false positive result, or whether mistakes had been made during the testing process.” They put forth the theory that the positive doping test had resulted either from Veerpalu’s genetic uniqueness or the fact that the test was conducted after a difficult training session and stay in an alpine lodge in high mountain conditions. However, they could not prove their theory. What proved decisive was not a faulty test or method, but the measuring technique through which the doping hunters compared Veerpalu’s results.

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Sulev Kõks, Professor of Physiological Genomics at the University of Tartu, who led Veerpalu’s scientific team, is one of the most talented Estonian genetic scientists.

Inaccurate method Growth hormone is a naturally existing hormone in the human body, but how can one set the boundary which, if crossed, indicates that someone has used an external growth hormone (commonly called “doping”)? People are different and the level of the hormone and its isoforms vary even within one day. “The more we focused on the growth hormone test, the more questions and suspicions we had about its reliability,” says Professor Sulev Kõks, the leader of the group of scientists. “Most suspiciously, we never found a methodical and scientific explanation for the testing method, nor did we receive such an explanation from WADA. WADA claimed that they had never had a false positive result, in other words a case where an athlete who had not taken growth hormone had tested positive, thus declaring that it wasn’t possible. As proof they said that, of the dozen athletes who had been caught, nobody had been acquitted. But that is not something you can take seriously! That is not scientific proof!” says Fischer.



The team asked for help from the American biomedicine statistician Don Barry. “In fact, the testing method for growth hormone has been criticised for years,” explains Fischer. “We simply went further, carried out some serious work and presented scientific arguments.” The scientists assert that they were definitely unbiased. “As a scientist I would have accepted it if the test marginal rates had been correctly and thoroughly defined and working. Then we would have looked for other solutions. But those rates have never been scientifically proven,” says Fischer. When the team presented their questions about the testing method to CAS, there was a delay while FIS, in cooperation with WADA, tried unsuccessfully to patch up the holes discovered by the Estonians. In the end, CAS decided in favour of the Estonian team. “The scientific report presented by WADA to FIS regarding testing guidelines was not considered satisfactory by the judges and, therefore, it could not be claimed with certainty that Veerpalu was guilty of doping. Everything boiled down to the technical problems with the test. In conclusion, the test is still considered reliable but in future WADA must set clear guidelines,” explained Matthieu Reeb, Secretary General of CAS.

A precedent for many Many people believed that Veerpalu was let off the hook because of procedural mistakes made by doping hunters and was not actually clean. Don Catlin, who consulted with the defence team and is the “father of modern doping”, emphasises that a person is innocent until proven guilty. “Veerpalu’s case is truly stunning and frightening because it shows how innocent people can be found guilty.” Catlin believes that WADA should take this case into consideration and ask Estonian scientists for help in correcting the testing procedures. Veerpalu was acquitted, and FIS annulled the competition ban and had to pay 8,200 euros in compensation. “I think it’s a small miracle that in our dispute with such a large organisation, and the whole system, we were carefully listened to. Until the end, I was uncertain of whether our appeal would be rejected or not,” says Veerpalu’s lawyer, Aivar Pilv. The victory, which was due to a fundamental statistical flaw, is significant

because the same test had been questioned for a long time by others. For example, the ruling was welcomed by the players of the American NFL professional football league, whose union had fought the WADA growth hormone test for years, claiming that it was not based on scientific proof. “This ruling confirms the demands of players for a scientifically valid, completely regulated and transparent system,” the union said in its official statement regarding the decision by CAS. Due to the ruling, the Finnish skier Juha Lallukka was also acquitted and released from his competition ban. Having lived under immense pressure during the whole court process, Andrus Veerpalu returned to skiing at the top level this autumn, not as a competitor but as an adviser to the Kazakhstan ski champion Aleksei Poltoranin, who is set to go for gold during the next Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. However, for Veerpalu’s former coach Mati Alaver, this affair cost the opportunity to become the main trainer of the Russian national skiing team, and he returned to coach the Estonian national team after the scandal.

Miracle calf, sports gene and toxins of the Vietnam War

Gene test which helps to identify potential top athletes

Sulev Kõks (42), Professor of Physiological Genomics at the University of Tartu, who led Veerpalu’s scientific team, is one of the most talented Estonian genetic scientists.

Kõks also helped to develop a unique genetic test, available on the market beginning this year, which helps to better identify children who have the genetic predisposition to succeed in certain kinds of sports: to find potential future top athletes. Genetic tests for sports ability are nothing new, but mostly they have relied on one or two genes. For the first time ever, Estonians have pulled together six genes, so this test should give a better overview of an individual’s capabilities.

In addition to his work on the defence team of our sports hero, Kõks was the main theorist behind the cloning of the first Estonian transgenic calf, in collaboration with the Estonian University of Life Sciences. The calf Juuni was introduced to the public last September and she was supposed to be the first of many cloned cows with a transplanted human gene whose milk was supposed to yield growth hormone for the pharmaceutical industry. This is potentially a business worth hundreds of millions of euros, because until now the pharmaceutical industry has used a more expensive and clumsy method of producing growth hormone. In October, Juuni died at the age of three months, but the project continues and, according to plans, the herd of cloned calves of the Estonian University of Life Sciences will grow to ten or more in the next few years, which is considered sufficient to meet the entire world pharmaceutical industry’s demand for growth hormone. Today, the cloning of transgenic calves has become so ordinary that it is done on average twice a week at the lab of the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

“We are quite able to predict what field of sports is suitable for a person,” Kõks explains. “Broadly speaking we differentiate between whether someone has more potential for sports requiring strength where one has to endure a brief moment of huge muscle tension or a more endurance-sport-type biochemistry. More endurance-sport-prone people do not get tired as easily, their metabolism encourages the economic use of energy and such a person is able to train for three to four hours intensively. In addition, Kõks has researched the impact of toxic dioxin in Vietnam. Dioxin was released into nature when the US Army destroyed jungle areas with plant toxins during the war in order to prevent the enemy from hiding. As a result, approximately three million Vietnamese people are suffering from different health problems today. It is believed that dioxin causes developmental problems, birth defects and cancer. The aim of the project is to identify the link between dioxin in the environment and the occurrence of disease. Although Vietnam has the highest levels of dioxin in nature, it is not just a problem of one country: many countries have dioxin in their environments as a result of production processes. “The dioxin project is clearly a global issue. It is not just a problem for Vietnam, but also for other developing countries and for the United States,” states Kõks.

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Jaan Tallinn’s company MetaMed offers a personal medical service to the wealthy which can cost up to 250,000 USD. Inspiration for the creation of the company came from Steve Jobs’ fight with cancer.

MetaMed rescues

wealthy patients from the randomness of the medical system



Text: Toivo Tänavsuu

Based in New York, MetaMed was established in 2012 by an interesting group of people: in addition to Jaan Tallinn, who was also one of the founders of Skype, the futurist Michael Vassar, the legendary card player and former professional “Magic: The Gathering” player Zvi Mowshowitz, and the megastar investor Peter Thiel, who also founded PayPal. Thiel invested half a million dollars in the company. MetaMed has a simple vision: to offer a highend personal medical service and thereby show the potential future of medicine. Metamed is primarily directed towards patients in poor health who doctors have either given up on or who are themselves sceptical of doctors. For a cost reaching thousands of dollars (fees begin at 5,000 USD), MetaMed researchers study the patient’s medical and health history and genetic research, subsequently researching medical publications and studies. The company employs over twenty renowned scientists and doctors, who are called Medical Advisers or Health Researchers. For each patient, they prepare a thorough report in which they investigate the medical history and illness of the patient in the minutest detail. They find the likely cause of the illness, and introduce potential treatment methods and describe the risks involved. However, MetaMed emphasizes that the report does not prescribe any treatment. The decisions regarding treatment need to be taken by a medical doctor, together with the patient. For example, there are over ten different ways to treat a melanoma. For one client, MetaMed compiled a report of approximately twenty pages, which introduced all of the treatment options and discussed their advantages and drawbacks. On the basis of clinical studies, it mentioned dosage amounts, predictors of effectiveness, side-effects, response rates and survival rates. For another patient, MetaMed compiled an

18-page report on the causes of kidney stones and different existing treatment methods. No single doctor is able to provide such a comprehensive overview in the tight time-frame available for each patient! In the USA, an average visit to a doctor lasts approximately only 11 minutes and the majority of that time is spent on paperwork. MetaMed is no longer unknown in medical circles, although the company has not carried out a large advertising campaign. MetaMed services have been advertised on Adwords. Jaan Tallinn claims that marketing is their main challenge: “Sometimes I get the feeling that we’re building the first law firm in a world where law firms have not been invented yet.” Today the company has dozens of patients. One of the first patients paid 8,000 USD for a 10-page report on a rare form of skin cancer. Later the cancer was successfully treated on the basis of the report. It is also possible for patients to Google information on their illnesses, but MetaMed specialists have better access to different sources and they are able to better assess the quality of the information available. MetaMed is convinced that the US medical system is rotten to the core. And this shows the dire need for change. The United States spends a fifth of its GDP on health, but because of medical mistakes nearly 100,000 people die each year in hospitals and 40 million patients receive inadequate or late treatment caused by no access to or the lack of information. More than half a million medical articles are published annually and every day over fifty clinical trials commence. MetaMed has done the numbers: if general practitioners in the United States wanted to be somewhat informed of the latest medical achievements, they would need to spend 25 days each month reading articles and research results! Doctors cannot be adequately informed of the latest

news, and this leads to wrong diagnoses and treatment choices. The inspiration for creating MetaMed came to the research manager of the company, Michael Vassar, as he thought about the late Steve Jobs and his difficult fight with cancer: would Jobs have lived if his treatment had been overseen collectively by a room full of Nobel Prize laureates and top medical doctors? In an interview with the weekly Estonian newspaper Eesti Ekspress about MetaMed, Vassar claimed that their deeply scientific approach to medicine not only helps people to be treated more effectively but, in the long term, it will reduce healthcare costs in the United States. At times Vassar seems paranoid about the current system. According to his theory, only the smartest scientists and leading doctors are able to distinguish the truth from medical “bullshit”, find the right treatment on their own or even carry out clinical trials if necessary. The fate of other patients has been left to an ineffective medical system and the random care of doctors. Vassar believes that the current medical system ignores scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, offering patients one-size-fits-all and often unsuitable treatment. MetaMed is on a mission to help patients by “opening their eyes”. Yet he admits that the company’s service is only attainable by a few. In addition to the field of medicine, the philanthropist Jaan Tallinn is concerned with another large question “threatening human lives”: existential risks to humanity. For example, Tallinn is concerned about the development of artificial intelligence, developments in neuroscience and the rapid growth of genetic- and biotechnology. He has funded several research institutions, including ones at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK. “Humankind today is spending less on thinking about how to survive the 21st century than on developing new lipsticks,” he has said.

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Flick Diet was founded by two engineers of the Tallinn University of Technology: Henri Raska and Liis Loorits who have been doing science together for twelve years.

Text: Toivo Tänavsuu

How to stay healthy? Let’s ask the bacteria in your tummy Flick Diet, an Estonian start-up, helps people to lose weight and live healthily. Practical nutritional advice is provided through the DNA analysis of gut bacteria. 34


It may sound strange at first: for about a hundred euros, one can order a test-kit which is discreetly delivered to an automated parcel terminal in your neighbourhood. You take a sample of your own stools – a simple procedure thanks to the test-kit – and post it to Flick Diet. From then on, it gets more pleasant: Flick Diet will send your stool sample to a medical lab where bioanalysts will extract the DNA of the gut bacteria and study it. According to the DNA sequence, Flick Diet then determines the bacteria in your gut and a computer programme compiles a personal nutritional advice report. The recommendations in the report are based on about a hundred scientific articles which have been published in magazines such as Nature, Science and medical journals. The process has been approved by nutritional experts. The report helps you to understand what is “living” in your gut, which foods you can tolerate and which ones you can’t. It explains what you should eat more of, or less of, in order to make your digestion as efficient as possible, to avoid bloating and other problems, to strengthen your immune system (where gut microflora play an important role), to provide you with a general sense of well-being and to ensure a healthy body as you get older. Most importantly, following the advice enables people to lose weight healthily without having to suffer through different diets. Flick Diet, a start-up from the Tallinn Tehnopol Stat-up Incubator, plans to take this service onto the market in February 2014. The company was founded by two engineers of the Tallinn University of Technology: Henri Raska and Liis Loorits. Together, the two of

them have been doing science for twelve years. They have used similar methods of microbiology research to characterize other types of environments, for example biogas, milk, bread and cheese. Now they are applying the same method to researching the human body. The scientific council of Flick Diet includes the renowned neurobiologist Toomas Neuman, who is linked to various biotechnology companies in Estonia and the United States. The idea was first born in early 2012, when Loorits and Raska were brainstorming different business ideas. In the summer of the same year, they participated in Start-up Garage – a summer school for start-ups – where they refined their business model and met the future seed investor of the company, the well-known Estonian IT entrepreneur Jaak Ennuste.

But why study stools and gut microflora? According to Raska, the answer is simple: “The gut has one of the most direct impacts on human health and is the organ which is responsible for digesting the food we eat.” Each and every one of us has about two kilograms of bacteria living in our stomach: approximately 100 billion, which is ten times more than the number of cells. Bacteria influence our metabolism, immune system and even behaviour. The bacteria in our gut are as unique as a fingerprint: they start to develop before we are born and they determine whether we play in sandboxes, our lifestyle, food consumption, travel, illnesses and thousands of other factors.

The scientific council of Flick Diet includes the renowned neurobiologist Toomas Neuman, who is linked to various biotechnology companies in Estonia and the United States.

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The recommendations made by Flick Diet are much more practical than just “eat meat” or “eat vegetables”. “For example, I digest meat very well, but Liis digests plant proteins much better. This means that if I go to a restaurant in the evening I will eat the meat and leave half of the potatoes,” says Raska. In future, the service may have some added value, for example supporting people in recovering from a course of antibiotics. As the DNA analysis takes some time, Raska says people can fill out an online questionnaire about their dietary habits while they wait. Based on the questionnaire, the company can develop an even more personalised approach. On the basis of analysis and questionnaires, they can put together sample menus or food baskets for their customers. “For example, it would not make sense to recommend caviar to a student living in a dorm,” says Raska. In principle, the analysis can also identify possible indicators of illnesses, but those the company will not report on as, at least for now, they have no legal right to do so. As one of the main selling points of Flick Diet for clients is the opportunity to systematically lose weight, the main target area for the company is the United States market, which is saturated with overweight people. For medicine, reading the DNA of stool samples has a great future. At the moment, such samples are only studied to determine the pathogens of specific illnesses; other gut bacteria are not researched.



Yet their approach is not rocket science, according to Raska. “DNA reading was invented back in the 1980s, but it was only in 2005 that the second-generation equipment came out which made it possible to read DNA faster and cheaper. Eight more years have passed and it is only now that the prices are starting to become affordable enough that we can offer services to customers based on DNA readings. What is still missing is a statistical database, which could be used to diagnose illnesses with certainty, but this is just a matter of time,” he claims. There are other companies which offer nutritional advice on the basis of gut bacteria, for example Metametrix in the United States. Genotyping services are more widespread: customers buy an analysis of their DNA mutations in order to find out about the likelihood of certain diseases and genetic illnesses. The most well-known supplier in this field in the US is 23andMe, with Google as one of its shareholders.

How to best promote the services of Flick Diet? Raska is hoping to promote its service through many re-sellers. Those may be pharmacies, eco-shops, sports clubs or weight-loss programmes, such as Weight Watchers – all those who have customers who want to take care of their health. One of the biggest problems, according to Raska, lies in the taking of samples: many people feel uncomfortable about taking a stool sample. But the only alternative to develop personal healthy nutrition recommendations would be to cut people up!

Text: Kaidi-Kerli K채rner

Quality labels help Estonians to select food >

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The best known quality label with consumers



l ip u ärki

Four quality labels are most recognised by consumers in Estonia: Swallow Label, Clover Label, Flag Label and the label Best Estonian Food. The first two labels are issued by the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (ECAC), and the last two are issued by the Estonian Food Industry Association.

is the Swallow Label, or Approved Estonian Taste (according to research 87% of consumers know it), which is currently on 181 products. The swallow on the label is the Estonian national bird, and the main condition for receiving this label is that the primary raw material is of 100% Estonian origin. In order to receive the Clover Label, also known as Approved Taste, the food has to be produced in the European Union. In order to receive either of these labels, the product has to undergo quality control tests, where the product undergoes laboratory and sensory evaluations. In addition to the main tests, there is regular after-testing in order to ensure the quality of the product. Both the Swallow and the Clover labels are issued in autumn and apply until the end of the following year. Currently dairy and grain products have the most Swallow and Clover labels of all product groups.



For years, four of the best known food quality labels have helped Estonian consumers to make their choices in grocery stores. For companies, the quality label provides an opportunity to attract attention to their product and to emphasize the local nature of raw materials or production. In addition, a quality label is a good way to increase sales and save on marketing costs when entering the market with a new product.

M är k

According to Roomet Sõrmus, Director of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, many small businesses have benefited from quality labels.

The rationale behind the label Best Estonian Food is slightly different. This label is meant for products which have entered the market during a particular year and are geared towards innovation. According to Sirje Potisepp,

rahvuslipu märk hinnasildil näitab, et toode on valmistatud Eesti toiduainetööstuse ettevõtetes eestimaalaste poolt eestimaalaste

Lepasuitsu Eesti juust (alder-smoke cheese) is one of E-Piim’s most beloved products. This cheese is produced using traditional methods of baking it in a smoking oven, where alder smoke and experienced cheesemakers help to create a quality natural cheese. The white stains on the surface of the cheese are crystallized salts - a sure sign of traditional production methods.  This summer the cheese was awarded the DLG (Deutsche Landwirtschafts Gesellschaft - German Agricultural Society) Golden Prize. DLG food quality label is the most famous and reputable food label in Germany, which provides consumers with independent information about the quality of food. The central place in assessing food quality is on sensory evaluation, testing the appearance, colour, consistency, aroma and flavour. In addition, chemical, microbiological and physical analyses of the products are carried out in accredited laboratories. MOE MAHE 1886 is the only ecologically clean vodka produced in Estonia. This vodka falls into the premium class and is made from 100% Estonian certified organic grain. MOE MAHE 1886 is manufactured in the Moe Fine Spirit Distillery, which was established by the Estonian pharmacist Jakob Kurberg in 1886. Organic grain gives vodka a clean and soft taste. No sugars or additives are added to the vodka. An additional special quality is added by the water, which is drawn from a bore well in the Pandivere National Protection Area.

Manager of the Estonian Food Industry Association, the aim of their quality label Best Estonian Food is to designate innovation, and the aim of the Flag Label is to emphasize products produced in Estonia. “Our goal is to motivate producers to work on product development and to come onto the market with more and more exciting foods, offering consumers new taste sensations.” Another trend in Estonia is regional labels on products and labels created by producers themselves. For example, food products produced on the largest Estonian island of Saaremaa are promoted heavily and increasingly producers include on their packaging guarantees that their products include no artificial colourings or taste and flavour enhancers. The Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce has tried to encourage this trend: “For

example, as a rule testers of food products do not want to see artificial colourings or meat mass being used in products with quality labels,” confirms Roomet Sõrmus, Director of ECAC. It is also considered important to emphasise the local nature of raw materials through a quality label. For example, the label Eesti siga (Estonian pork) by Rakvere Lihakombinaat, the biggest manufacturer of meat products in the Baltic states, refers to the local origin of pork and is used as a quality label on products which have Estonian pork as a raw material.

5,500 kilograms of Estonian honey exported to China

Meveda, the largest Estonian honey producer, started to export Estonian honey onto the Chinese market. Only natural honey is sold. The first batch weighing 5,500 kilograms was sent off last spring. Jaanus Tull, board member of the southern Estonian company Meveda claims that ecologically pure honey is in demand in China. “Today especially middle-class Chinese consumers are very aware of their preferences for ecologically clean produce. They prefer organic goods from New Zealand and Australia and this also gives Estonia the opportunity to promote itself as a clean Nordic country.” “TV-shops are extremely popular in China. The majority of the population watches TV-shops where they introduce a product, talk about the country where it’s produced and explain why and how the product should be consumed. Through the sales of our honey, we are able to promote Estonia as for Chinese people it is a very exotic country,” says Tull. China is a growing market for Estonian honey where a large amount of the local production could be transported in the future. Eight hundred to a thousand tons of honey is produced in Estonia annually. In 2012, Meveda produced 28 tons of honey. In addition to traditional natural honey, the products of Meveda include honey with propolis, honey with royal jelly and honey with pollen.

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I ECONOMY AND BUSINESS The advantages of quality labels for producers and consumers The aim of food labels is to help customers orientate themselves and to choose the best products. For producers, it is an opportunity to make their products stand out. For consumers, the quality label offers assurance that the product has really been produced in the way that is claimed and its quality has received a high evaluation. According to research, threefourths of consumers select products with quality labels either always or occasionally. For companies, it is important to stand out on the shelves, which are loaded with all kinds of products. This is often especially significant for small companies or those who are new in the market, for whom a quality label is often the best marketing strategy. According to Roomet Sõrmus, many small businesses have benefited from quality labels: “These days it is difficult and expensive to market your own brand. A quality label attracts the interest of consumers and provides consumers with certainty about the quality of the product.” Recent experience demonstrates that receiving the label Best Estonian Food has greatly increased the sales of products. For example, Sirje Potisepp says that the sales of Fazer seed bread tripled after



receiving the quality label. Of course, the label helps less known companies a lot. They may have a good product but consumers don’t buy it. For example, after receiving the label Best Food of the Year in 2013, the sales of marinated African sharp-tooth catfish by M.V. Wool has risen by ten-fold!” In addition, applying for a quality label helps to give food producers professional and independent feedback from experts. The testing committee evaluates products extensively, looking at their appearance, taste, smell and texture. In selecting products for the Swallow and Clover labels, experts fill out a form that is useful for producers in making changes in future products and in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing products. The evaluation committee of Best Estonian Food includes only the best specialists in the food industry, and when they sum up the points on their evaluation sheets they determine the tastiest and the best products. Grocery stores are also more likely to stock those products which have quality labels. It gives a guarantee to the shop that consumers will be more interested in the products and they will therefore be sold more easily.

The impact of the economic crisis on the food industry The economic crisis significantly influenced the purchasing behaviour of Estonian consumers and also the choices they make in their food baskets. Difficult times made consumers more pragmatic and people now buy more selectively. Products on sale and special campaigns determine the behaviour of consumers more and more. According to Sirje Potisepp, they regularly monitor consumer behaviour and currently it shows that “60% of consumers look for cheaper offers, and even wealthier consumers look at product prices. Hence, sales are no longer just meant for less affluent customers since most consumers look for the ‘yellow price tags’.” In order to support Estonian companies and to create new jobs, the Flag Label was introduced in 2009. In just a few years, this quality label has become one of the best known labels in the country. The label is given to products produced in Estonia, although the raw material may come from another country. The origin of the raw material and the location of production continue to be important for Estonian consumers and also impact their purchasing behaviour.

Sirje Potisepp, Manager of the Estonian Food Industry Association, recalls that the Flag Label was introduced in 2009 in order to support Estonian companies and to create new jobs.

Estonian quality labels in comparison to the rest of Europe

Future trends of quality labels

Quality labels are also common in neighbouring countries and Estonia has learned a lot from their experiences. For example, the evaluation criteria of the Clover and Swallow labels were adopted from Germany. The same principle applies for the Finnish Swan label, which is given to products with local raw materials. In both countries, quality labels are highly regarded by consumers, and supermarkets prefer to stock products with labels.

According to Sirje Potisepp, in recent years producers have only participated in the Best Estonian Food competition with their best products and with the clear goal of winning. This is based on the fact that a quality label makes a very strong case for consumers to buy the product. As organic products are increasingly popular, Potisepp believes that in the near future one competition category may be Best Estonian Organic Product. “But we can already consider many Estonian products organic products and this is the reason why they are highly valued elsewhere in the world, especially in Japan,” says Potisepp. There is a growing trend in Estonia to produce interesting organic products and to apply for quality labels for them. For example, the Swallow Label has been given to such unique local organic products as Moe vodka, made from local grain, and the cheeses and curds of Saidafarm.

Estonian products with quality labels also sell well in other countries. Sirje Potisepp says that Estonian foods are very highly regarded in the Russian market because of their quality and taste. The added attraction of a quality label increases the preference for a product on foreign markets. Estonians tend to have taste preferences similar to those in the Nordic countries and less similar to other Baltic states and Russia.

There is an increasing trend of producing enriched foods (where minerals and vitamins have been added). Foods supplemented with pro-biotics, which help to keep gut-microflora balanced and boost the immune system, are also increasingly popular. These products include the dairy products of the Hellus bacteria range and the TENSIA bacteria in Südamejuust (heart cheese – ed.). Both bacteria were developed in Estonia and have received numerous prizes abroad. Advertising food quality labels is continuous work and, according to Potisepp, marketing cannot allow for any gaps in time. Also, Roomet Sõrmus claims that it is important for producers to have labels on their products: “It does not matter how much we advertise quality labels; the consumers will really only notice them on the packaging of the product.”

* In Estonia all foods are subject to VAT.

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I ECONOMY AND BUSINESS Unripened cheese in brine is a speciality of the Kalamatsi Dairy. No other dairy produces such a cheese. The dairy also offers cheese spreads for those with a sweet tooth. Frying cheese is made of a mixture of goat- and cow cheese.

Kalamatsi goat-milk dairy experiments with new cheeses Text: Kristiina Kruuse / Photos: Maarja Otsa

Goat milk Goat milk is digested more easily than cow milk, as its fatty acid chain is five times shorter than that of cow milk and therefore easier to digest. The fat content of goat milk is 3.5 – 4.2 per cent. Goat milk contains more A, B1, C and D vitamins. In addition, the potassium, calcium, phosphor and iodine content of goat milk is higher than that of cow milk.

Aita Mets and Jaan Raudkivi moved to Esna during the same week. Neither of them knew what they would do there and they did not know each other. Today they are partners in life and business.



Esna, a picturesque village in the Estonian countryside, is where Aita Mets and Jaan Raudkivi have, in just three years, established the Kalamatsi Dairy, whose products are sold in shops and the best restaurants in Estonia. The fact that the first goat-milk dairy in Estonia is located in Esna is, to a large extent, a result of a favourable twist of fate. Aita Mets was on her way to becoming a scientist. She was employed as a laboratory assistant at the Tallinn University of Technology when she took a holiday in Austria and volunteered at a small goat-dairy farm. Back in Estonia, she quit her job, as her soul yearned for the countryside. “The desire to live in the country was huge and then I had the chance to move to Esna,” she recalls. Jaan Raudkivi, who had worked in the timber industry, moved to his grandfather’s house in Esna during the same week. Neither of them had a clear idea about what they would do there and they did not know each other. “But things developed their own logical momentum in Esna,” says Aita. The young people also found each other outside their business partnership and today they have three children: four- and two-year-old boys and a baby girl. “We were a great match because we had different experiences. Aita knew how to make cheese and I knew how to develop a business,” explains Jaan Raudkivi.

Kids from Sweden Aita Mets and Jaan Raudkivi bought their first 30 kids from Sweden in the spring of 2010, and by autumn they had completed building the first housing for the goats. Today their herd has 80 goats and Jaan talks of enlargement plans. “We have plans for about a hundred animals”, he says. In 2011, the building of the dairy plant for the processing of goat milk was completed and cheese production began. The couple claim that they had no funds whatsoever to buy the goats and build the dairy. “We had nothing, just our two hands,” recalls Aita. They were able to make their dream come true thanks to support from the Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board (ARIB), which did not require any selffinancing, and because of this they were able to receive a bank loan. Currently the Kalamatsi Dairy produces approximately 150 kg of cheese a week. The product selection includes goat cream cheese spread and unripened cheese in brine, which resembles feta and can be used in salads or added for taste to soups.

Own invention The unripened cheese in brine is the Kalamatsi Dairy’s own invention: even the renowned Austrian and French dairies don’t produce anything like it. “We invented this technology and it cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It is complicated and involves a handmade process,” explains Aita. In addition to savoury cheeses, the Kalamatsi Dairy produces sweet cream cheeses in buckthorn-chocolate and bilberry-vanilla flavours. According to Aita Mets, consumers really like the mixed cow-milk and goat-milk cheeses, which can be fried. This cheese was created in cooperation with the restaurant Leib & Aed in Tallinn, after their chef explained what kind of cheese they needed and the dairy then produced

it. As the frying cheese became popular very quickly, it is also available in supermarkets today. “Every cheese has its own story,” says Jaan, who adds that, if necessary, their dairy can produce tailor-made cheeses on request from customers. Flexibility is the key advantage of a small dairy, he says.

Security of supply In addition to flexibility, it is equally important to guarantee the security of supply. “There is a lot of quality handmade cheese produced in Estonia, but it is important to continuously guarantee the same supply. For us, security of supply is very important: if we have agreed to deliver something to a customer, then it is settled and we will guarantee provision. Even if double or triple amounts are needed, you have to be able to supply it,” says Aita. “So far we do not owe anyone any cheese,” she adds. The Kalamatsi Dairy products are equally valued by customers of shops and restaurant kitchens. “Goat cheese has a special taste and it gives an extra nuance to food; it is not a daily sandwich cheese,” says Jaan, who adds “goat cheese production is not very effective and goat cheese cannot be produced at the same levels as cow products.”

Willing to experiment The top priorities of the Kalamatsi Dairy today are to guarantee the security of provision and to expand their special cheese selection. “We want our existing operation to run smoothly and, at the same time, we wish to offer something new, a choice with a special edge,” explains Aita. She adds that enlarging their product selection also means that their herd has to grow. Aita Mets explains that goats have great personalities – shy but curious at the same time – which makes them easy to raise. They stay very true to their daily rhythm and do not go roaming about on their own. For example, once the door to the lairage was left open by mistake for a whole night, but the goats faithfully remained inside. It principle, it would be possible to produce several hundred kilograms of cheese a week in the Kalamatsi Dairy (instead of the current 150 kg), but increasing production volume means not just buying more goats but also building a new storage space. “We have lots of room for development,” says Aita. The two young entrepreneurs could have limited themselves to goat herding and milk production, but they consider it important to add value to their basic product. “I was very impressed while volunteering at the dairy farm in Austria with how they made everything themselves,” recalls Aita Mets. “I did not grow up on a farm and I don’t have traditions to fall back on, but that just makes it more important to me to increase the value of our products and to create something interesting for ourselves,” she adds. * This article was first published in the daily newspaper Postimees’ Country Life Extra

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In the new production facility, Siret Elmi demonstrates jellied candy made of wild berry, fruit and vegetable purees.

Minna Sahver surprises Text and photos: Maarja Otsa

with special jelly candy

The products are free of artificial colourings and preservatives. Therefore, kids with allergies can also eat the candy.



Siret Elmi’s brother surprised his sister by drawing the logo of Minna Sahver on the wall of the new production facility

Minna Sahver is a small company which sells jelly candy handmade from natural berries, fruit and vegetable purees, producing 4,000 packages each month. In November, the company celebrated its third birthday in its new production facility. Siret Elmi, the founder of Minna Sahver (Minna’s Pantry, ed.), became a businesswoman thanks to having a baby, as she wished to serve natural and healthy food to her child. At first she thought of making baby food purees in deep frozen cube form: you put the cube into a bowl, mix with hot water and the baby food is ready. It seemed like a great idea but did not develop further, as market research showed that a small business could not compete with the prices of large baby food producers.

today they produce 4,000 packages of jellied candy a month. At first, she produced the jellied candy as the orders came in. “When I got an order, I started to make the product and the customer had to wait for two weeks,” she explains. But the orders kept pouring in and the home kitchen became too small. In 2012, the company moved to new production rooms. During the move, Siret’s mother finally was able to return to her own job and Minna Sahver employed two new staff members.

From tester to small business owner

“Last Christmas we had more orders than we were able to supply, but this year we don’t have that problem any more,” says Siret. While everything in the home kitchen was prepared in cooking pots, the company has now obtained proper equipment (an industrial boiling pot and jelly forms) with the help of Leader funding, which enables them to produce at a much larger capacity. The new production space also has a storage area for ready products. “Our sales prognosis for December is 5,000 packages,” says the young business owner.

Siret started to make jelly candy thanks to her own mother. “My mum went to a food fair in Latvia and saw jellies made of purees,” she recalls. Hence, she could still make the purees but now they would be used for making candy. At first, her mum made the jelly candy, and all other duties– procuring the raw ingredients, packaging, labelling, marketing, customer relations and so on—were carried out by the daughter. Once the concept was ready, they needed to find the essential ingredients and develop the recipe. Siret Elmi was lucky: the importer of the important jellying agent – agar-agar – had a production technologist who helped to develop the recipe for the jellies of Minna Sahver. After that, Siret and her mother started to produce the jelly candy themselves. In spring 2010, Minna Sahver had its first customer-testing at a rural shop in Rapla. “At first we had three customers. It seemed enough to keep working in our home kitchen,” says Siret. Today the jelly candy is sold in the supermarkets of Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu and in small Tallinn Old Town shops. The production volume of Minna Sahver has increased significantly in the three years and

A wide selection The product selection of Minna Sahver includes 26 different types of jellied candy: something for every taste! The products are free of artificial colourings and preservatives: the colour comes from the purees. Therefore, kids with allergies can also eat the candy. Another unique characteristic of Minna jellied candy is that it is handmade. The whole process is a handicraft. Siret Elmi has no plans to mechanise the production process as she likes the fact that they produce handmade candy and sees it as a unique selling point. Of the product range, the most popular packages include a mixture of three different types of jellied candy. The popular flavours include blueberry and sea-buckthorn; special flavours

include rose-hip and quince. Children love the strawberry flavour. The vegetable jellied candy is becoming more and more popular: for example, candy made of carrots, beetroot, spinach and pumpkin. “When I offer vegetable-flavoured jellied candy at food fairs, I often receive a negative response until the customers taste it, and then they want to buy it immediately,” says Elmi. Minna Sahver buys its raw ingredients from local small producers. This year the owner of the company still picked the wild berries herself, but next year she will not be able to do so as production has grown so much.

Future plans Siret Elmi’s idea of creating something natural and local probably has roots in her childhood summers spent with her granny, who had a large fruit tree garden. Her grandmother Minna spent most of her time doing housework and garden work and she had a large pantry where she kept all sorts of preserves. “My granny is no longer alive, but my company got its name from her,” says Elmi. Siret Elmi says that the future holds many challenges. For example, they need to redesign the label on the packaging as the current one was done on someone’s lap, without any marketing knowledge. Export is also being considered, first to Estonian food shops based in Finland. In addition, the products are still not sold in eastern towns of Estonia, such as Rakvere, Narva and Jõhvi. “We will first visit fairs in those areas and see how local people like our product,” Elmi says, describing her plans for the near future. * This article was first published in the daily newspaper Postimees’ Country Life Extra

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I ECONOMY AND BUSINESS Tiina Valk , Executive Director of the Salutaguse Yeast Factory, is thoroughly at home with the specifics of yeast production. For twenty-one years, Tiina has worked in different positions, from accounting to logistics, and has been involved in initiating new production projects.

Text and photos: Jaanus K천rv

Success guaranteed by product development and innovation The only yeast producer in Estonia, the Salutaguse Yeast Factory is part of the Lallemand Group, which has its head office in Canada. The factory in Salutaguse produces liquid yeast for the baking and confectionery industry, inactive dry yeast for human consumption and animal feed, and inactive dry yeast-based additives for fermented beverage production. Most of the production is exported to Europe, North America and Asia.



Juhan Parts, Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications, during his visit to the Salutaguse Yeast Factory on 13 September 2013.

Baker’s yeast has been produced in Salutaguse since 1927. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, a state-owned public limited company was founded on the basis of the yeast factory. Those were turbulent times and the current Executive Director, Tiina Valk, is convinced that without foreign investment the factory would not have survived. The Salutaguse Yeast Factory was privatised and purchased by a foreign investor in 1994 for the price of one Estonian kroon. The symbolic price was based on the dilapidated buildings, run-down equipment, and the ineffective production process: the production capacity of the factory back then was 3,150 tons per year, but only about 20% of this was reached. The foreign investor was the Lallemand Group, registered in Canada. The yeast factory was the first European company for the Lallemand Group. The only obligation for the investor was to maintain a certain number of jobs and to make the investments required in the contract. It was only in 1999 that the company was able to break even, primarily due to cutting costs and starting to produce inactive yeasts. The competition in the baker’s yeast market is fierce and this makes small-scale production unsustainable.

Drum dryer brought about the change The big change came in 1998 with the installation of the first drum dryer, which dries cream yeast, resulting in the end product of inactive yeast in the form of powder or flakes. In order to make baker’s yeast or inactive yeast, it is first necessary to produce yeast milk. Yeast milk can be sold as liquid yeast to bakers or it can be filtered and packaged into compressed yeast. It can also be inactivated and dried, in order to produce an inactive yeast product. Inactive dry yeast and yeast biomass fractions (e.g. yeast cell walls and yeast extracts) are used as additives in the food, feed and fermentation industries because of their unique flavour characteristics (savory), high nutritional value (B-group vitamins, protein and nutritional fibre content), and their physical and chemical properties, which make it possible to change the texture properties of foods. For example, inactive yeast enriched in a natural antioxidant called glutathione is used in pizza dough as a texture

The products of the Salutaguse Yeast Factory are highly regarded throughout the world. The dried yeast label Lalvin, which is enriched with minerals and vitamins, received the golden innovation award in the Kellerwirtschaft category in 2004. In 2006, the inactive dried yeast mix Natstep received the VINITECH Trophies Award for trendiest product development. The inactive dried yeast label Engevita (2007) is a premium-class product and in high demand.

improver, as well as in the fining of wines, where it prevents wine oxidation and related wine faults, including colour changes and loss of aromas. A range of B-group vitamin-enriched inactive yeast products are produced as nutritional supplements for vegetarians. “Fermaid” products in the wine industry are different dry-blend formulations of inactive yeast, yeast extract and inorganic compounds which are used to help the fermenting yeast start wine fermentation and prevent “stuck fermentations”. The key to success for such a small factory is specializing in high-value speciality products. “At first we only produced a kilogram-package, a 500-gram package and a 100-gram package of fresh baker’s yeast, but now we have 400-450 different products and brands. In the last four years, the annual growth in sales has been around 20%,” explains Tiina Valk. There has been a continuous stream of new activities. In 2002, the blending department, which produces dry blends for the wine industry (fermaids and wine-fining agents) made on the basis of inactive dried yeast, was opened. The investments made to increase blending and packaging capacity have tripled the overall production capacity. As the demand for inactive dried yeast is continuously on the rise, further investments were made to increase the drying capacity by installing two new dryers. In January 2012, the production unit for natural plant protection products (solid-state fermentation of fungi), the Lallemand BioIngredients Customer Sample Centre and the Customer Service Centre for Lallemand Animal Nutrition Products all started operations. Investments have also been made in cleaning appliances and a vacuum steamer which produces vinasse: a high value by-product of yeast fermentation. “During the production process, vinasse and condensed water come out of the vacuum steamer. We can use the condensed water for the cleaning of existing equipment, and the rest goes into the bio-cleanser to produce biogas. We are currently marketing vinasse as animal fodder and as a soil fertilizer,” explains Tiina Valk.

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I ECONOMY AND BUSINESS In installing the new cleanser, the owner had to invest not just money but also faith in the future of the Salutaguse Yeast Factory. Today the factory also has a process for producing effluent streams, which is known as the best existing technology for cleaning the effluent of the yeast industry. Investments this year reached 3 million euros. The Salutaguse Yeast Factory has the duty to produce high-quality products and it does not deal with sales directly. The products are sent directly to customers or to the Lallemand Distribution Centre. The products are sold in Asia, America and throughout Europe. The Lallemand Group employs approximately 2,500 staff, and more than 70 of them work in Research and Development. There are nearly 30 production units all over the world. The yeast factory in Estonia is the only one where inactive yeast products are produced on drum dryers, and the factory has been called “the pearl of Lallemand”.

Tiina knows her way around all jobs Tiina is thoroughly at home with the specifics of yeast production and, as she says, she grew up in the factory. For twenty-one years, Tiina has worked in different positions, from accounting to logistics, and has been involved in initiating new production projects. She became the manager in 2006, but it has never been important to her what her exact position in the factory is. “I was always there where something had to be made to work,” she says modestly. As a manager, she is thankful for the variety of her experience, because she is able to offer quick solutions when problems arise. The mother of four, nominated as Mother of the Year in 2013 by Kohila County, and the head of the Social Committee in the local government, laughs when asked about sleepless nights, saying: “That is when the best ideas happen.” Heiki Hepner, the Mayor of Kohila, gets acquainted with new products.

20 million euro turnover In 2006, the factory started to specialize in the production of inactive dry yeasts, the packaging of baker’s yeast stopped in Estonia, and the equipment and technology was transferred to Poland. Of the active yeasts, the Salutaguse factory only retained the production of liquid yeast supplies for the Estonian baking industry and the distribution centre for the baker’s yeast produced by the group. In comparison with the early 1990s, the production volumes have increased geometrically. The production volume of yeast milk, after the current investment, will reach 11 thousand tons per year. As a result, the production and packaging of inactive dried yeast and yeast mixes will reach seven to eight thousand tons per year. The turnover last year was 18 million euros, and this year it is predicted to be around 20-21 million euros. 97% of total turnover is exported. In order to maintain this level of turnover, it is imperative to develop new products, with the keywords being innovation and product development. There is increased interest in new and niche products. The market has also expanded because most of the products are also certified as Kosher and Halal.

Innovation and product development as keys Product development is carried out in the Research and Development Centres of the Lallemand Group. One such centre is the Competence Centre of Food and Fermentation Technologies in Tallinn, where Lallemand has its own research group of close to 10 researchers. “People have asked me what lies behind the success of our food industry. I believe people these days are more interested in living healthily. Therefore, we must, first and foremost, work on innovative products. At the same time, there is pressure to maintain low prices as the market is seeking cheap products which are just as good quality as the premium products,” explains Tiina. The keywords of their products are: natural, healthy, organic, salt-reduced and clean label. And all of the products are non-GMO. The goal of the Lallemand Group is to be one of the world leaders, especially when it comes to special products. These are the products produced in Salutaguse and this is the reason for the investments in the yeast factory.

The work of Estonians is appreciated Why is production kept in Estonia? The main reason is that the owners are very happy with the Estonians’ know-how and attitude towards work. “Our long history has given us the know-how to produce inactive dried yeast, and the group highly appreciates this,” explains Tiina. Average salaries at Salutaguse are somewhat higher than the average Estonian salary and production operators do not want to leave. They have never had problems in finding staff, although vocational education institutions do not provide specialized courses for this field. The training is done in the company. Today the factory employs 94 people and plans to recruit three or four more. “What we are looking for in employees is a sense of duty, transparency, the ability to participate in team-work and, if possible, we always prefer to hire local people,” says Tiina Valk.




It must be creative potential which has taken Peeter Laurits where he is today. It has brought him through dark sorrows and elevated dreams, in order to find his own place in the arts world. Noah’s Ark Interview by Anneliis Aunapuu

Peeter Laurits wrestling with ancient forces We know you as a photographer. Besides photography, have you been interested in other forms of creative self-expression? For example, staging a ballet? I have never really wanted to direct a ballet. I have had problems with gait since birth and I cannot really carry a tune. As a child, I decided to become a scientist and a writer, but life took its own course. In primary school, I won a story competition of a children’s magazine and the prize was a camera, but I was totally disinterested in taking photos back then. I studied hieroglyphs and the alphabets of extinct languages, dreaming of creating and breaking secret codes. Literature and the process of making up new worlds have always captivated me, but as a teenager I had the feeling that I would only make a mediocre writer. Then I focused on drawing and painting. After some time I lost my enthusiasm, feeling I would also make a mediocre painter. I studied languages and tried my hand at translating, but that was also not what I was looking for. Finally I found myself as a photographer and this mysterious, magical world entirely captivated me and all the tricks I tried were successful from the start. I must have been twenty-five years old when I got the feeling that I had found myself. Still, those earlier interests have not disappeared; on the contrary, new ones have developed.

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I CULTURE globalisation because it is destroying old and peripheral languages at an enormous rate, destroying the different ways of coding memory. It is a death sentence.

How deep into history have you managed to peek? History is by definition the story of our written heritage, and everything before the beginning of written memories is pre-history. One can peek into pre-history with intuition or with the methods of exact science. Counting the bones of dinosaurs reminds me of forensic science, and I lack the resources for that. Yet when we look up into the sky, we can see quite far in time. With the help of photos from the Hubble telescope, we can see 13.8 billion light years away. Broadly speaking, that is the shock wave of the Big Bang reflecting back at us. I have not managed to look further than that with my imagination.

Human family, human tribe, shaman and god. Have we today forgotten or discarded old connections? Forever? Night Flight

It was complicated to find the time in your busy schedule for an interview. How many jobs are you doing? Actually there is just one job - freelance artist - but there are several projects in the works. Book design provides me with a stable income. The largest project in the last few years has been a contract for panoramas for the Finno-Ugric permanent exhibition at the new exhibition hall of the Estonian National Museum. There are a total of one thousand square metres of photographic context for our tribal peoples.

When did your interest in the primal sources of humanity begin, and are you interested in other sources besides the Finno-Ugric? Since I was a kid, I have wanted to know what I am. And the primal sources of culture seem like the right place to find answers to that question. The Neolithic was a very exciting leap in the history of humankind. That was when a range of new technologies—land cultivation, ceramics and textiles—were developed, and in order to implement them it became necessary to model the next steps long in advance. This is also reflected in the art of that period: whereas Mesolithic art was mostly figurative, depicting animals and sometimes humans, the art of the Neolithic was dominated by geometric ornaments. This clearly refers to abstract thinking, which is not far from the beginnings of symbolic systems and written communication. I find this totally fascinating. The Finno-Ugric tradition is naturally what I can best relate to, because I am connected to it through my mother tongue. We are a very old people, and we remember the times when Etruscans, Pelasgians and the builders of Stonehenge disappeared from the historical arena. We do not possess rich archaeological resources, but our language, place names, old songs, myths and ornaments represent a huge time span’s worth of wealth of ancient traditions in coded form. I am interested in all ancient cultures of which still some signs remain, but it seems like one can penetrate deepest via ancient languages. I am not enthusiastic about



The changes are not as big as we believe. Everything changes. The world is I Ching, the Book of Changes, but those changes take place within the patterns of eternity. People still reproduce in two sexes and they form families. Families form tribes and tribes need leaders who attempt to look beyond the horizon. Yesterday it was the shamans, today it is software engineers, and tomorrow it will be someone else. We are still attempting to model our experience via the matrix of eternity. God today is the invisible hand of the market, a naive masturbating pragmatist, but people believe in it and this has great power.

Do you read ancient national and traditional patterns like an open book? Or like the writings of a bark beetle under tree bark? Reading ornamental writing is about an intuitive grasp, after all old codes have vanished.

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How many ancient languages have you studied? I have studied the dialects of southern Estonia, of which today there are attempts to reconstruct the written form. I have dabbled in classical Chinese. And, of course, Latin.

In the tough 1990s you had a successful career in advertising. What made you give it up and find exile in Kütioru? After returning to Estonia from studies in New York, it seemed that under the conditions of early capitalism it was possible to transform the cultural role of photography, and in the context of mass culture to create new unexpected connections. And so it was. Herkki Erich Merila and I founded the DeStudio and worked on the borderline between art and advertising as tricksters and smugglers. We put together exhibitions and initiated media projects of which I am still proud. In time, it started to feel like the media industry which we were trying to use was capable of consuming us. In the end, it came down to the choice of being a media critic or an artist. I made my choice. I moved to southern Estonia into a secluded forest cabin and concentrated on the thoughts which I had neglected during those intermediate years.

You turned your back on the social life. But exile didn’t save you from it; it seems it followed you. Social animals cannot make very sudden turns. Friends and habits follow you. Kütioru became an art centre: more people came to visit than


I had the strength to host, and the solitude I was seeking in the forest became rarer than it had been in the city.

You have also challenged death by trying psychotropic substances which you yourself call means of transportation. Do you have any regrets? Sometimes you need to go somewhere that you can’t normally access. Then you ask for a ride.

Do you remember the first time you went mushroom-picking? What about the last time? I remember the first time. I remember the last time. But those are very intimate experiences.

You have been captivated by the impermanent nature of human existence and our journey in life. Is there a particular childhood experience behind this? My childhood is linked to hospitals. Since my first year of life I have been cut up and sewn back together dozens of times. I have experienced clinical death. My childhood home was located next to a large hospital and I had no fears of that place; the hospital park was my favourite playground. Behind one window, you could see how babies were born. The cemetery was next to the hospital park and this was an even more exciting playing field. As an adult, I have had to fly around the world a lot. Maternity wards and cemeteries are a little bit like the waiting areas of airports.

Do you still find time for photography in the middle of all the computer assignments and memberships in juries and committees? What motifs attract you?

Bank reserves

I take photos rarely but then with extreme concentration and ecstasy. I find it most thrilling to photograph tiny things in natures – grass roots and the slimy paths of snails - or distant galaxies. Sometimes I just photograph randomly, a snapshot here and another one there. Photography

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for me is an excuse and a way to look for inspiration. It is only once the photos are downloaded onto the computer that the real fun starts.

Your nature motifs have an air of completeness about them. But your performances reflecting the visual culture of civilized nations embody a sense of disarray? I am always and everywhere looking for a sense of cosmic completeness. The whole is made up of pieces. I try to visually bring conflicts together and observe what they are doing to and with each other. I am interested in dynamics, bringing small elements into a larger background system. Normally one has to aid those processes on the computer. If a picture is too harmonious, then I try to merge it with another one to see if I can create something unpredictable.

Does living in big cities mean the decay of humanity? This is a difficult question for me. Obviously the city is not an organic living environment. It is a place where most things necessary for life have to be imported from somewhere. You might say that a city is a place where inorganic stuff is made of organic materials. It is awful to observe how urbanization and covering the planet with asphalt is destroying living creatures. It looks like eczema, but it is not necessarily decay.

Will technology take us into a better future or is it in conflict with divine laws? This endless growth and massive reproduction which we are experiencing in parallel with crazy technological development may actually signify an evolutionary leap. The technology which during the last half century has focused on the prosthetics of the nervous system instead of the muscles may lead to a situation where we may be able to surpass our own individualism and make a leap towards collective consciousness. I don’t know how good that would be, but it would at least somewhat excuse the growth, which has reached an absurd level.

I Ching - The Book of Changes

Is a human body pure chemistry or the embodiment of God? Or are we biorobots?

Archaelogical photo finish



I don’t know. These are very metaphysical questions. Without a longwinded introduction, which is beyond the scope of this magazine, I can just say that I sense everything living as an embodiment of divinity. Eczema for me is no less divine than human civilization.

Text: Piret Järvis Photos: JANAR RAIDLA

Winny Puhh-

how rural lads from southern Estonia became punks and how the punks became pets of the world’s fashion elite

It is said that the most models per square metre come from Estonia and some of them, including Carmen Kass and Karmen Pedaru, are the most in-demand models in the world. Yet it was not our first-class beauties who recently created furore on the pages of the fashion bible the Italian Vogue; no, it was six Estonian shock punks from the group Winny Puhh!

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Fashion and music have always gone hand-inhand and it is not unheard of for musicians to be portrayed in Vogue. But it all seems a bit different knowing that the website ranks Winny Puhh as indeed the weirdest band in the world. Their genre, according to them, is punk/metal/whatthe-fuck, and in their activities they stay true to the philosophy: “Listen carefully to what everybody else tells you to do and then do the exact opposite!” Some consider them to be totally bizarre, others geniuses and many people are simply so confused that they cannot stop thinking about them. The Estonian punk/metal six-member band gained a cult following this year thanks to the unbelievable performance they gave in an attempt to represent their country in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Their attempt failed, but their performance became extremely famous on YouTube. This performance also provided the initial impulse for the six south Estonian musicians to create a commotion in the world’s fashion circles in the summer of 2013 and to later land in Vogue: their appearance at the Paris Fashion Week. Rick Owens, a designer of exclusive male fashion, saw the performance on YouTube and invited the band to perform at the presentation of his Spring Collection 2014.



The show in which guitarists hung upside down from the ceiling, drummers circled on the walls and the vocalist’s face was covered in long white fur, looking like an albino Chewbacca, received immediate media attention all over the world. “What I love about them is that they have a cheerful aggression. They also have this wonderful over-the-top limitlessness – there are just no limits in their performance. I love that kind of aggression; it’s a friendly aggression,” said Rick Owens to “Dazed Digital”. Rick Owens is a fashion designer whose leather jackets will set you back a few thousand euros, whose regular customers include Kanye West and Orlando Bloom, and who is, among other things, famous for having said no to Michael Jackson once when asked to design clothes for the star’s tour. Winny Puhh is a band which came together in 1994 in the small southern Estonian town of Põlva (6,600 inhabitants) when school friends decided to start a band. It is not surprising that they became an inspiration for fashion folk if we consider that one of their trademarks has always been outrageously eccentric stage costumes. In addition, it is important to mention that the band never wears the same costumes on stage twice.

Here are some colourful examples of their costumes. In a recent television appearance, the band members wore bright latex costumes, a look which resembled heated marshmallows. It was said then that the metal-men really appealed to pre-school audiences. For one of their first music videos, the group transformed themselves into elderly ladies who later became Bollywood dancers with scary keep-smiling grins. Often they take to the stage naked, just wearing a sock for cover or some paint. They’ve also performed in doctor and nun costumes, as robot aliens wrapped in foil and as giant poisonous mushrooms. The guitarist of the band, Ove Musting, has explained their costume phenomenon thus: “I think it is offensive for the audience if we just hop onto the stage in our street gear, sing some songs and then hang out on the street wearing the same clothes. A performance should be a spectacle and what we do is music therapy and healing people. High priests and shamans are always in special attire. So are we.” This grand costume drama is part and parcel of Winny Puhh’s southern Estonian humour, with which they spice their lyrics, public performances and speeches. Thus two summers ago they shocked an Estonian festival organiser with their demand for a sound technician

with a university degree, two kilograms of beluga caviar, boiled plums, one egg and for nobody on the technical team to talk to the band members. They asked the fans to bring along recorders in order to expel bad spirits together. At a recent rock festival, the band decided just before the beginning of the concert that they did not want to perform on stage but in the middle of the audience as “part of the people”. Hence, the festival team had no choice but to surrender and move all of the sound equipment and instruments off the stage just 20 minutes before the start of the show. Considering such tricks, many may doubt the sanity of the band members, but one should not be too hasty. One of the most important music journalists in Estonia, Erik Morna, has said the following about Winny Puhh: “they are a very distinguished and intelligent band. Winny Puhh is never banal. This is what makes them a good funny band, which works.” And there is no reason to doubt Morna’s words, as most members of this shock band, which has been active for 19 years, have university degrees and they are family men who are also successful in other fields of life. For example, the leader of the band, Indrek Vaheoja, has a degree in history from the University of Tartu and works as copywriter, radio DJ and TV host. The main songwriter, guitarist and producer of the band is the music teacher and sound studio owner Silver Lepaste. The outrageous rhythms of the band are created by a graduate

of the Tartu Art School and a working graphic designer, Kristjan Oden and Olavi Sander, who studied drums at the Georg Ots Music School. The base player is Indrek Nõmm, Executive Director of a successful southern Estonian agricultural company, and second guitar is played by one of the most wellknown Estonian TV directors, Ove Musting. Although Winny Puhh has not made it onto any of the important charts, we can calmly claim that this shock rock sextet have received the most international recognition of any Estonian band to date. Different publications, from North America to South Africa, from Australia to Uruguay, have written about the group and, whether you like their music or not, you cannot possibly ignore them. “We didn’t really expect this kind of attention and the fact that we receive invitations from abroad to go perform and totally sane people are interested in us and listen to our music is of course a source of joy. Of course, if all this furore had happened to us fifteen years ago, we would have been doing somersaults, but today we are all old, our families are at home and we would rather go to the sauna and cinema with our wives. I don’t know if we’re really eager to go abroad to perform,” says the guitarist Ove Musting about their sudden fame.

See for yourself at:

Winny Puhh appeared at the presentation of Rick Owen’s Spring Collection 2014 in Paris.

Some comments about Winny Puhh: What the hell did I just watch??? Prepare to have your mind blown… or an epileptic seizure. I’ve NEVER seen anything quite like this before. It’s a new genre! (Right?)

MTV Iggy: Winny Puhh are far from your typical band on the rise. For starters, they’ve been around since 1993. Secondly, they represent a rock theatricality that peaked around the time of Kiss, Gwar and Ozzy Osborne. But it’s exactly their outlandishness that makes them ripe for the viral age of today. They’ve performed covered in paint or with hair glued to their faces like Teen Wolf. They wear brightly colored wrestling leotards. Lead singer Indrek “Korraldajaonu” Vaheoja screeches his vocals like a banshee wild man. Their performances and videos can be consumed alongside Buzzfeed lists about LOLcats or photos of Lady Gaga’s latest costumes. At the same time, there’s something egalitarian about their punk/metal/ hardcore sound that prevents them from being too kitschy or annoying. They also manage to be arty without the grating pretentiousness that often accompanies so-called “high art.”

The Guardian: The performance by Estonian hardcore werewolf band Winny Puhh at the Rick Owens show provided delight or fright depending on your point of view.

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Raw food is a trend which is finding many followers throughout the world, including Estonia. Eating raw food does not mean chewing on a carrot or a piece of turnip, and this is proven by one of the most unique dining places in Tallinn: Bestseller, at the Viru shopping centre. The café is run by Tiina Kilter, who is a food technologist by training, together with her son Marten and daughter Maari-Liisa. Actually, they are not pure vegans, and they do not eat raw food every day, but only when they feel like it. The most important aspects are fresh and organic ingredients and healthy food. It is a great establishment and Bestseller’s raw food menu has won many fans in a very short time. After all, it is exciting to eat courgette spaghetti or “liquid salad”, or to try different smoothies. Raw food means mostly avoiding salt, sugar, vinegar, flour and most food oils. As to certain dishes, soups for example, the food is only heated up to 47 degrees. The food is exciting, healthy and colourful.

Organic and rustic a new trend in the Estonian restaurant landscape

It is clear that the era of “presentation” restaurants – dots of food artistically arranged on the plate - is over. This trend is not only noticeable in Estonia: it seems that the entire world is moving towards more simple and fresher food. Famous head chefs from different continents, clearly fed up with overly complicated taste combinations and exclusive ingredients, are taking a step back toward their roots. Local ingredients, simple flavours and, last but not least, affordable prices are being honoured once again. Of course, top-class restaurants will not disappear - they will always have their clientele - but newcomers in Estonia, and in the rest of the world, tend to be cafes and bistros. Until now it was always from the warehouse that head chefs acquired their ingredients, local and foreign. But today they increasingly rely on the local market and farmers. More and more head chefs have come out of their kitchens and made personal arrangements with farmers. Only in this way can they be assured that the final results are what they are looking for: that the potato and beetroot taste the way they are supposed to and have the proper shape and size. Hunters and fishermen have also become key suppliers. Pickers of mushrooms and wild berries,



Text: Ene Kaasik / magazine KÖÖK Photos: Lauri Laan who gather the best goods from the forests as a hobby, are in direct contact with restaurants. Estonian forests are undoubtedly some of the richest in Europe and much remains to be discovered. Of course, there is room for development when it comes to stable and sustainable supplies. The time when farmers themselves come knocking on restaurant doors with their boxes of apples or fresh fish is hopefully coming soon. Another clear trend in Estonia is the fact that restaurants themselves are moving closer to the ingredients. How? The prevalent attitude that life only happened in Tallinn and only Tallinn residents visited restaurants is a thing of the past. Tallinn residents are actually quite willing to drive hundreds of kilometres for good organic food. Organic and eco are trendy and citizens of the capital want to be trendy, of course. There are many new enjoyable dining places in smaller towns and even near motorways and in villages. For example, there is Põhjaka, which has become a magnet on the Tallinn-Tartu motorway, and the Ööbiku farm, which requires a special trip and cannot be just driven by coincidentally. Organic and rustic food is trendy in the city and in the countryside.

Ööbiku gastronomy farm

Ants Uustalu, the master of the Ööbiku farm, has proved that it is possible to make a living in the countryside with a restaurant. It is unlike common restaurants, which are open between certain hours, as one has to book in advance and be there on time, because the menu is shared by all guests and depends on what ingredients have been obtained from the neighbouring farms. Customers are served in a barn in summer and inside the house in winter. There is plenty of farmhouse atmosphere in every season. The main ingredients always come from just a few kilometres away. Ants’s experience suggests that it is possible for a village to sustain a restaurant with its own supplies and feed guests properly. In addition to his own business, Ants provides income for neighbouring farmers. This results in the freshest and most organic of foods in his restaurant.

The Ööbiku gastronomy farm is unique in its simplicity. The initial fear that diners would not accept the rustic eating experience was unfounded: there are many more bookings than the farm can accommodate. Clean flavours and quality local ingredients are honoured in Estonia. It is another matter whether such a restaurant can survive in every village, but there is definitely room for more establishments like this.

“I am a fan of clean tastes and quality raw material. I like to know where my ingredients come from, and how they have been raised, stored and marketed. That creates a sense of security and makes the food taste great,” explains Ants. Whereas many people refer to the tedious nature of Estonian ingredients, Ants disagrees. He says Estonia has very rich fauna and flora and people have not made use of everything available. In addition, in comparison with western Europeans, Estonians place greater value on what grows around them; they know their mushrooms and herbs.

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Mahedik is the first courageous step towards the organic cafe in Estonia. It seemed like a crazy idea to open a cafe offering mostly organic foods in the centre of Estonia’s summer resort Pärnu during the busiest season, summer. The joint mother-daughter business of Evi and Evelin Kuusik received a lot of attention from the outset and they never had to resort to special tricks to attract customers. Clearly it was the right time for that kind of business: people were tired of expensive restaurants and yearned for more simple food. This is what Mahedik offers. The organic local produce was an added value. The cafe menu is exactly to the liking of its owners: simple homelike grub. There is an excellent female trio in the kitchen: two chefs and a baker. The cake selection is superb: pumpkins, carrots and other seasonal field and garden produce are used in making desserts. The hosts have more ideas than time to implement them and they do not complain about a lack of ingredients. Even during the poorest period - early spring - something can be found in the pantry to create exciting food with. The owners are happy with the way it has worked out. Evelin, the daughter, has no regrets about going into business, although at the busiest times the cafe takes up not just their days but also their nights. The result - happy and pleased customers - makes it all worthwhile.



Mahedik has that special atmosphere which makes a cafe a true cafe. As soon as you step in, you are hit with the amazing aroma of ovenwarm baked goodies.

Till ja Kummel is a great example of following one’s instincts. The owner, Nele-Marit, had a dream: owning her own design store or cafe. She chose the latter and the first year shows that it was clearly the right decision. Depending on the day, weather and time, the tables are always busy or the place is even fully booked. Those who visit say good things and promise to come again. And this is a promise they keep. The allure of Till ja Kummel is its simplicity and its homelike atmosphere. The interior reflects the style and signature of the owner: it is her “home”, where people come to eat and have a good time. There are no expensive or complex interior design solutions to attract customers. The food is also simple and homely. Organic and local produce is used in the most natural way, just as we all use what we get from the gardens of our grannies. The menu changes according to the season and the cafe uses products from similar small businesses. Till ja Kummel works perfectly without higher culinary pretensions. Honest, uncomplicated food is what we are looking for in today’s oversaturated world.

Till ja Kummel

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Kaberneeme village on the picturesque northern Estonian coast has always been a favourite spot of city folk on hot summer days. It is a place for water sports, swimming and sunbathing. The seaside pub with its pretty Falun red walls, which has been open in Kaberneeme for decades, has had a total makeover and in the right direction: the new owners helped to design the place themselves, and decided to experiment with exciting food. In just three weeks, OKO Resto was born. Pastel shades and wide sea-views. Homely interior and friendly hosts. OKO Resto is a true family restaurant: little toddlers run around in their socks, feeling at home; people come and go, eat and drink. It seems that this place has always been here. It is just part of the environment. OKO became famous long before it opened. Rumours of one of Estonia’s most famous chefs, Tõnis Siigur, creating the menu and training the kitchen staff started to spread on social media channels long before the place opened. The excitement grew day by day. Once the first curious visitors arrived, it became clear that it was worth the wait. Tõnis has combined what seems impossible at first: child-like, joyful ideas, local fresh ingredients and modern kitchen technologies. The ingredients come from near by: from fishing boats, gardens and



fields. When the sea yields nothing exciting, they resort to the woods and the Estonian woods are endless; one just has to find the ingredients and bring them out. The fantasy continues with service on stones, branches, pots, planks, salt cruts, jars and pieces of paper: the young head chef, Joonas Koppel, continues to play with food in a good way.

Neikid is a young establishment, but has already become loved by local residents. It is easygoing and straight-forward, and this applies to both its menu and decor. The owners love local fresh produce, simplicity, clarity and transparency. The name of the restaurant, Neikid (pronounced “naked�, as in English) is very suitable indeed. The owners strive to make their restaurant transparent, simple and sincere, offer food without trickery, and serve normal fresh produce. The principle here is to first see what the customers like; the culinary achievements of the head chef and owners are secondary. The restaurant uses local Estonian produce as much as possible; for example, they purchased a few hundred kilograms of moose meat from Saaremaa and a large batch of Lake Peipsi onions, which form the base for their famous onion soup. It is worth mentioning the beer list of Neikid, as there are a large number of handmade Estonian beers available, produced by small breweries. The organised beer-tasting dinners have proved very popular. They decided to test a large choice of beers imported by James Ramsden (the owner of Drink Bar, which has the largest choice of beers in Tallinn) and, during the tasting, they tried various foods and ingredients; thus the first beer menu was born.


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Von Krahl’s Aed As it is connected with the Von Krahl Theatre, the restaurant Aed has a similarly cosy, bohemian atmosphere. Within the secure walls of the Old Town, the sign “Clean Food Embassy” on the door promises fresh and tasty food, which is sadly not always easy to find in the touristorientated Tallinn Old Town. Entering the restaurant, you will find yourself in a cosy and historic interior, and immediately spot a lot of greenery. The shades of green have a calming effect, which makes your senses more alert and also raises expectations of what will appear on your plate. There are no white tablecloths, and all of the chairs, tables and sofas are differently shaped and support the general atmosphere. At Aed one feels pleasantly liberated. There are not that many dining places in Tallinn focusing on vegetarian food. More of them are starting to appear and existing restaurants are increasingly adding vegetarian sections to their menus. Healthy lifestyles and healing chronic health problems with food are increasingly popular. Also, healthy meat eaters need some changes in their diet. Aed is a place which offers it all: the vegetarian section of the menu is very well thought out, offering many pleasant surprises. Aed is a great place for people who are looking for wholesome organic food, and Estonian ingredients are found in the fish and meat dishes. The wine menu is also worth mentioning as it includes many organic wines.



Text: Aivar Hanson / Photos: Lauri Laan

The food served in Estonia is sumptuous and diverse The opportunity to enjoy tasty local cuisine plays an increasingly important role in making travel decisions. According to research results introduced at the International Food Tourism Association in Gothenburg, 77% of all travellers take food into account in choosing their travel destinations. Six years of experience in choosing the fifty best restaurants in Estonia demonstrates that the local cuisine offers a good reason to visit the country. Each year, about a third of the restaurants in the rankings are new, and there are eateries ranging from farm-restaurants, with one staff member, to top gourmet establishments. Every selection system has to keep pace with the times in order to be as objective as possible. The method of choosing the top fifty restaurants in Estonia was significantly improved last year. Now the selection takes place in two rounds. The first round takes place among restaurants. Each restaurant has the opportunity to nominate three voters (one from the board, one from the kitchen and one from the dining area). Each voter compiles a personal ranking of the seven best eating places in Estonia. Each restaurant which receives at least three votes is then included in the voting process. All of the votes are counted and the fifty restaurants with the most votes are then included in the official rankings. The ranking table is published in spring, but this still does not determine the final positions of the restaurants included.

The final positions are determined by an international jury made up of 30 representatives of food media. In addition to Estonian judges, the jury includes representatives of leading food media in Sweden, Finland, Russia and Latvia. Each restaurant is visited covertly by six to eight jury members at different times. Each judge fills out an evaluation sheet, in which a restaurant can achieve up to 100 points (up to 40 points for food, up to 20 points for beverages, up to 25 points for service and up to 15 points for the milieu). In the official ranking, the restaurants are rated according to the points received for cuisine. The other points become important when two or more restaurants have an equal number of points received for cuisine. The TOP 5 restaurants show the diversity of food on offer in Estonia. The nationalities of the Head Chefs of the five best Estonian restaurants are Danish, Estonian, British and Chinese! Where ever you come from, you can be sure to find good food in Estonia.


The TOP 50 Estonian restaurants can be found at

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1. Alexander

Pädaste MANOR, Muhu ISLAND

Peeter Pihel

It has been the best restaurant in Estonia for four years running. The food on the menu is made of local ingredients. The restaurant employs an herbalist, who collects various herbs for the restaurant chefs from the local manor park, forest and seaside. This forms a unique basis for the cuisine served at Alexander. With the change of the year, the Chef de Cuisine also changed at the Pädaste manor house. Today the kitchen is headed by the Danish chef Yves Le Lay, who has been familiar with Nordic cuisine since his early childhood, and whose cooking signature adds new value to Estonian food. Phone: +372 454 8800 /



2. Tchaikovsky

Hotel Telegraaf Vene 9, Tallinn

Ranked second for three years. Boring? Far from it. Staying at the top for several years is proof of stable high quality. The difference in quality between the two best restaurants is minute. It is also important that the two best restaurants are not resting on their laurels, but keep developing. The cuisine of Tchaikovsky is totally different from the food offered at Alexander. The Russian-French cuisine combination dates back to the end of the 18th century czarist court. Now it is complemented by modern techniques and Nordic ingredients. Tchaikovsky is a very unique restaurant.

Phone: +372 600 0610Â / WINTER 2013 / 2014




3. Põhjaka

Mäeküla, Paide, Järvamaa COUNTY

Two of the three best Estonian restaurants are located outside Tallinn. This shows that restaurants move closer to the best raw materials. They prefer to be involved in producing great ingredients and also grow them themselves when the conditions permit. This illustrates the kind of restaurant Põhjaka is. It offers simple local food, the kind which the chefs themselves recall from their childhoods. It is much more difficult to catch diners’ attention with simple food than to boast of complex technologies and foreign ingredients which have been perfected over years. Põhjaka offers a challenge to fine dining restaurants, which normally dominate in such ranking tables. Põhjaka caters to people who wish to dine outside their homes more often whilst paying less. It is also significant that Põhjaka was able to open a popular restaurant next to a highway in a location that people used to just speed by.

Phone: +372 526 7795 /



4. Horisont

Swissôtel Tallinn Tornimäe 3, Tallinn

Four of the five best Estonian restaurants are located in hotels! This is a great message to travellers who prefer comfort. In order to enjoy the best food, it is sufficient to check into a hotel, with no need to ever leave it. Horisont, located on the highest floor of Swissôtel, makes Tallinn into a real city. The views from up here are true city views and the food on offer is comparable to cuisine offered in the biggest cities in the world.

Phone: +372 624 3000 /

Swissôtel offers international cuisine and has helped to make Tallinn an international city.

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5. Chedi

Sulevimägi 1, Tallinn

Although Chedi has ranked near the top of the list since it opened its doors in 2009, visitors to Tallinn are still surprised to find ultra-modern Chinese cuisine in Tallinn! For years, the Head Chef was second in command in the Chinese restaurant Hakkasan in London, the first Michelin star Chinese restaurant in the world. The nearest place where one can enjoy this level of Chinese cuisine is indeed London. A country of great food is not one which only offers the traditional fodder of its own country. A great food country is one which is able to attract the best food professionals from other countries.

Phone: +372 646 1676Â /



Estonia in brief Official name: Republic of Estonia State order: Parliamentary republic Area: 45,227 sq kilometres (17,500 sq miles) Population: 1,294,236 inhabitants: 67.9% Estonians, 25.6% Russians and 6.5% others Population density: 28.6 people per square kilometre. Over 70% reside in urban centres Capital: Tallinn with 427,894 inhabitants (as of 1 Sep 2013) Other major towns: Tartu (98,522), Narva (64,041), Pärnu (42,433), Kohtla-Järve (40,032) Administrative divisions: 15 counties (maakond), divided further into 226 local municipalities, incl 33 towns and 193 rural municipaliites (vald) Islands: 1521, the biggest being Saaremaa 2,671 sq km, Hiiumaa 989 sq km, and Muhu 198 sq km Biggest lakes: Lake Peipsi 3,555 sq km (1,529 belong to Estonia), Lake Võrtsjärv 271 sq km Longest rivers: the Võhandu River 162 km, the Pärnu River 144 km, and the Põltsamaa River 135 km Highest point: Suur Munamägi (Great Egg Hill) 318 m Air temperature: annual average +7ºC; March +6.3ºC; July +17.7ºC (2013) Official language: Estonian, a member of the Finno-Ugric group. Russian is widely spoken. Many Estonians speak English, German, and Finnish Alphabet: Latin Religion: Predominantly Protestant (Lutheran) Currency: euro (EUR) since 2011 Average salary: 887 EUR (as of 2012) Driving: Right hand side of the road. Speed limits in town 50 km/h, out of town 90 km/h. International driving licence required Weights and measures: Metric system Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz Country calling code: 372 Emergency number: 112 (free of charge) National flag: Blue-black-and-white National holiday: 24 February (Independence Day) National anthem: Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm (My fatherland, my joy and happiness) National flower: Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) National bird: Chimney swallow (Hirundo rustica) Member of EU, NATO, OECD, WTO, and Schengen area

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Practical information for visitors

San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela. The required travel document for entry is a valid passport. Citizens of countries not mentioned above require a visa to enter Estonia. Visitors arriving in Estonia with visa must have national passports valid at least 3 months after their planned departure from Estonia. Children aged 7 to 15 years must have their own passport when travelling to Estonia or, if they are registered in their parent’s passport, must have their photo next to the name. Children under 7 years need not have a photo if they are registered in their parents’ passports. Persons above 15 years must have a separate travel document with photo.

For more travel details, please consult the sources below: (Estonian Tourist Board), Tourist information centres are located in all larger towns.

For detailed information on visa requirements and entry rules, please consult the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at

By ship: With over 6 million passengers annually, the Port of Tallinn is undoubtedly Estonia’s main gateway. Large passenger ferries arrive from and depart for Helsinki and Stockholm regularly. The 85-km Tallinn-Helsinki line is served by ferries that make the journey in 2 hours; hydrofoils and catamarans make the trip on 1.5 hours and operate between April to November-December, depending on weather conditions. Travellers should note that different ferry lines depart from different terminals and harbours. The City Port with its four terminals is a 10-15 minute walk from Tallinn Old Town; the Paldiski-Kapellskär line uses the Port of Paldiski, about 50 km from Tallinn. By car: Border checkpoints greet travellers entering or departing the country by way of the Estonian-Latvian border points at Ikla (the Tallinn-Riga highway) and Valga, as well as on the Estonian-Russian border at Narva (the Tallinn-St. Petersburg highway), Luhamaa, Koidula and Murati. On the Estonian-Russian border, all traffic is subject to border formalities both when entering and leaving Estonia.

The Tallinn Tourist Information Centre in the Old Town is located at 4 Kullassepa Street - no more than 10 steps from the Town Hall Square (ph.: + 372 645 7777, e-mail: turismiinfo@ The Tallinn Tourist Information Centre in Viru Keskus (ph: + 372 610 1557, 610 1558), open every day 9 am - 9 pm, is located in the centre of the city. A wide selection of maps, brochures and publications in several languages (largest selection in English) can be found at local bookstores and tourist information centres.

Visa As of 21 December 2007, Estonia is a part of the Schengen visa area. Nationals of EU and EEA member states are free to enter Estonia. The required travel document for entry is a national ID card or passport. Nationals of the following countries do not need visa to enter Estonia, and can stay for up to 90 days in any 6-month period: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay,



Arrival By plane: Recently renovated, the Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport, just 3 km from the city centre, is welcoming, modern and user-friendly. Among other amenities, travellers have access to a free WiFi area in the transit zone. The airport’s 24-hour customer service telephone is +372 6058 888. Tartu Airport is situated at Ülenurme, near Tartu. Flights from Tartu to Helsinki depart six times a week. Regional airports are located in Kuressaare (Saaremaa), Kärdla (Hiiumaa), and Pärnu; these provide no regular international connections.

By bus: Not only is travel by bus the fastest and most convenient mode of international public transportation in the Baltic states, it also offers excellent value for your money. Regular connections service all major cities in the Baltic countries and St. Petersburg. Eurolines Lux Express and Hansabuss offer comfortable Riga Airport transfers from Tallinn, Pärnu, Klaipeda, Vilnius, Panevezys, and Šiauliai. Prices start from €20.00. A useful tip: Regular passenger buses have priority at the border checkpoints, so travel is smooth. By train: There is only one international overnight train to Moscow.

Customs and ticket information is available at telephone +372 6800 900.

We suggest travellers consult with the Estonian Customs Board help desk (ph.: +372 880 0814 or for details. The limit on import of alcoholic beverages from outside the EU is one litre for beverages over 22% alcohol content, and two litres for beverages up to 22%, and four litres for wine. Import of tobacco and tobacco products from non-EU countries is limited to 40 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 50 g of tobacco products. Counterfeit goods, including pirated CDs, video and audio tapes, are prohibited by law. A special export permit is required for specimens of plants and animals of endangered species, protected species and hunting trophies (please contact the Nature Conservation Department, Ministry of the Environment for details). Articles of cultural value produced in Estonia more than 50 years ago also require special permits (please contact the National Heritage Board).

Travelling by car Travellers hoping to see more of the country and the rural areas it would be best advised to travel by car. The roads are quite good and traffic is light. Crossing Estonia from north to south or west to east by car takes approximately three to four hours. All major car rental agencies have offices in Tallinn. It is also possible to rent the car in Estonia and drop it off at a rental agency in Latvia or Lithuania, or vice versa. The speed limit in rural areas is 90 km/h and in cities 50 km/h. In some areas the highway speed limit is increased during the summer months. Headlights and seatbelts (front and back) must be on at all times. Driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances is punishable by law.

Free public transport: As of 2013, all residents of Tallinn, students and passengers 65 years and over are entitled to free travel on Tallinn public transport. Tickets for visitors: The Public Transport Card Ühiskaart may be purchased for the price of €2. This smart card, onto which you can load money, or e-tickets can be purchased from post offices and online at Personalise the card for  €1 at the point of sale or for free at

If you are using pay-as-you-go credit, your smart card automatically calculates the cheapest fare within the next 24 hrs (never more than one-day travel card). Validate your journey with Ühiskaart immediately after entering the public transport vehicle. You can also buy tickets from kiosks and from the driver (single ticket €1.60 and student ticket €0.80). Try to have precise change (cash only) for the driver. The ticket is valid for one journey only in that specific vehicle. Discounts only for ISIC Scholar and Student Card holders. Holders of a validated TallinnCard are entitled to a free ride.

Local transport Getting Around Estonia Inter-city public transportation Public buses are the easiest, cheapest and most convenient solution for visiting Tartu, Pärnu or any other of the larger towns. Buses from Tallinn to Tartu depart every 15-30 minutes, to Pärnu every hour. On weekdays, seats to these destinations are almost always available even immediately before departure (watch out for special events). For weekend travel or trips to more remote locations with fewer connections, it is advisable to buy tickets in advance. The Tallinn Bus Terminal is located at Lastekodu 46. The timetable is also available online at

Taxis: Taxis must clearly display their fares, driver’s taxi service licenses, and a meter. The initial charge for entering a cab ranges from 2 to 3.5 euros. Different taxi companies have different rates, but the average charge per kilometre is 0.5 euros. There is no additional charge for ordering the taxi by phone, and it usually takes the cab just five to ten minutes to arrive. All taxi drivers must give you a receipt (in Estonian, ask for “Kviitung, palun”). Locals usually give the exact fare and no tip. As in most major cities, some dishonest drivers attempt to overcharge unsuspecting passengers. If in doubt, note the taxi company and license plate number. Public transportation: Tallinn has a public transport network of buses, trams and trolley-buses. Other Estonian towns have buses. Check the time schedule for Tallinn bus lines for any bus stop at

Accommodations All major hotels in Tallinn have been newly built or completely renovation in recent years. Despite annual additions to the number of hotels and rooms, it can nonetheless be difficult to find a hotel room on short notice (particularly over the week-end). For the best selection, we urge visitors to Tallinn and the rest of Estonia to book hotel rooms in advance. For more details, see the Estonian Tourist Board website at

WINTER 2013 / 2014




Money On 1 Jan 2011, Estonia adopted euro as its currency thus replacing the Estonian kroon which had been the only valid currency in Estonia since 1992. Most larger hotels, stores and restaurants accept Visa, MasterCard, Eurocard, Diner’s Club and American Express. However, it is advisable to carry some cash with you. Traveller’s checks can be exchanged in most banks but are less likely to be accepted in shops. Eurocheque is the most widely accepted traveller’s check, but American Express and Thomas Cook are also accepted. Banks are plentiful and easy to find in Tallinn. Most are open from 9:00 to 18:00 on weekdays, while some offices are also open on Saturday mornings. All banks offer currency exchange services. Exchange offices can also be found in larger hotels, the airport, harbour, railroad station and major shopping centres. ATMs are conveniently located around town; instructions are in English, Russian and Estonian.

libraries and post offices. There are over 100 wireless free Internet zones around the country, many of them in rather unexpected places - beaches, Old Town squares, stadiums, and concert halls.

Emergencies 112 is the emergency number for ambulance, police and fire department. The police can also be reached directly at 110. Emergency numbers can be dialled free of charge. Select pharmacies are open 24-hours-a-day in many major towns. The one in Tallinn is located at 10 Pärnu Road (opposite the Estonian Drama Theatre); the one in Tartu is located in the Town Hall building (Town Hall Square).

National Holidays

Telephones and Internet The country code of Estonia is 372. Dial 00 for outbound international calls. The GSM mobile phone system is available; please check compatibility with your operator. Public Internet access points have been set up all over Estonia. They are located in local



Estonians celebrate January 1 as New Year’s Day, a rather slow and quiet day as people recover from the festivities. Shops open late and banks are closed. February 24, Independence Day, is celebrated with a parade of the Estonian Defence Forces at Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square). May 1 is a bank holiday, similar to Good Friday and May Day. June 23 is the biggest holiday of the year as Estonians celebrate Midsummer Eve and the Victory Day in commemoration of the 1919 Battle of Võnnu, and June 24 is St. John’s Day (Midsummer). August 20 is the Day of Restoration of Independence (1991). December 24 (Christmas Eve), December 25 (Christmas Day) and December 26 (Boxing Day) are usually spent at home with families.

Food Traditional Estonian cuisine consists of simple peasant food, such as cottage cheese, potatoes and bread, all of which are still important components of the local diet. The Estonian dark bread is the main staple missed by Estonians abroad. Typical Estonian dishes do not feature prominently on restaurant menus, and traditional home cooking is more likely to appear at small eateries in remote areas. Still, a few establishments have made Estonian specialities their niche; to sample Estonian cuisine, try the Vanaema juures, Kaerajaan and Kolu Tavern (Open Air Museum) in Tallinn, and the highly recommended Muhu Kalakohvik and Lümanda söögimaja on the Island of Saaremaa. The list of the top 50 Estonian restaurants can be found at

19th-century kristallkümmel (caraway liqueur) has made its long-awaited comeback. Estonian wines, made from currants or other local berries, are rather sweet. Wine lovers

Even the most sceptical museum-goer is bound to find something intriguing in Estonia’s large selection of museums, which feature everything from history, art, photography to toys, chocolate, musical instruments, even wax fig-

Drinks The main drinks in Estonia are beer, wine and vodka. While many young city residents opt for beer or wine, the older generation and rural folk tend to prefer vodka. In the 1930s Estonian vodka made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest vodka in the world (96º). Local brands of beer enjoy a very strong market position in Estonia. The two main breweries are Saku and A. Le Coq. Saku is Tallinn-based, and its corporate colour is navy blue while A.Le Coq is brewed in Tartu and its colour is red. There are also many smaller breweries. A full list of Estonian beers is posted at

usually prefer imported wine, of which there is an ever-increasing selection at stores and vinoteks. A very popular and refreshing nonalcoholic drink is kali, made of bread, malt, rye or oats flour and yeast; it has a characteristically dark brown colour. It was with this drink that the Estonians forced the Coca-Cola company into submission, or at least into a business deal. Kali was enjoying phenomenal sales, while Coke was not selling up to expectations. It was then that Coca-Cola decided to broaden its horizons by buying one of the local kali trademarks in order to make a profit on the stubborn Estonians.


Spirits also include some traditional liqueurs. The famous Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn) has a 45º alcohol content, and is coincidentally made from 45 ingredients - the recipe is known only to a handful of people. Indeed, the legendary

The entertainment scene in Estonia is vibrant year-round, providing visitors and locals alike with a long list to choose from. Concerts, festivals theatre, street raves, DJ competitions – Estonia has it all. It is not by chance that both Tallinn and Tartu have their own opera and ballet theatre. Tickets are an excellent value for the money; concert tickets cost around 10 euros, and best seats at the opera are yours for about 25 euros. For more information on the concert schedule see; the programme for the national opera is posted at Tickets can be bought at the box offices or via ticket agencies located in all larger supermarkets, or via Internet, www. and

ures and many other topics. Most museums are closed on Tuesdays and many on Mondays as well. It is advisable to have cash on hand as many museums do not accept credit cards. Tallinn is also bustling well into the night with booming and blooming club scene. Clubs are usually open and packed with energised vibes from Thursday to Sunday, with Friday and Saturday drawing the liveliest of crowds. In addition to local and resident DJs, clubs frequently present guest performers from London, the US and other club hubs. For those looking for a more mellow night on the town, Tallinn’s street are brimming with pubs, vinoteks and bar-restaurants, many of which offer live music even on weekdays. Rather take in a movie? Films in cinemas are shown in the original language with subtitles.

WINTER 2013 / 2014




Shops Souvenir shops in Tallinn and most other tourist locations are open seven days a week, 10:00-18:00 or 19:00. Big supermarkets and hypermarkets are open seven days a week from 9:00-21:00 or 10:00-22:00. Department stores close a few hours earlier on Sundays or, in smaller towns, may be closed on Sundays. Smaller food shops may have shorter opening hours. Some 24-hour shops can be found as well. Other shops usually open at 9:00 or 10:00 and close at 18:00 or 19:00; they often close early on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays. The majority of shops accept credit cards, with the exception of smaller stores and stores in rural areas.

sweaters and mittens with local ethnic patterns, linen sheets and tablecloths, crocheted shawls and veils, colourful woven rugs, handmade jewellery and glassware, baskets, and an array of wooden spoons and butterknives made from juniper. Fine and applied art for show and purchase is on display at art galleries around the country, featuring graphics, glass, ceramics, hand-painted silk scarves and leatherwork. Various herbal teas from wild plants are available at pharmacies. Local honey – pure or flavoured, e.g. ginger, is another delicious treat. In rural areas, you may find hand-milled flour. And those who keep coming back swear by the Estonian black rye bread. To bring home local spirits, popular choices include Vana Tallinn or kristallkümmel liqueur or local beer. And there is no place better than Estonia to buy Estonian music.

Crime Although common sense is advisable in all destinations, Estonia gives no particular reason to be excessively worried. Do not walk the unlit and abandoned areas alone at night. Do not leave bags or items of value in the car, as not to tempt car thieves or robbers. Pickpockets may operate at crowded tourist destinations in Tallinn, so make sure your wallet and documents are stored safely.

An English-Estonian dictionary is available online at

Estonians Estonians are typical Nordic people – they are reserved, not too talkative and speak rather monotonously, with very little intonation. All this may give one the impression of coldness bordering on rudeness. But rest assured, this is not the case, and the speaker may actually be extremely well-meaning, even excited. There are several well-known Estonian sayings, such as “Think first, then speak”, “Weigh everything carefully nine times before making a move”, and “Talking is silver, silence is gold”. It is, therefore, no wonder that the people are not very good at small talk, do not waste too much time on grand introductions, and usually come straight to the point. This is why Estonians’ English may sometimes sound shockingly direct. There is, however, often a subtle irony involved in Estonians’ utterances - delivered with a serious face and just the slightest twinkle of the eye.


Souvenirs Souvenir and shopping preferences vary hugely but there are certain souvenir gifts that have gladdened many a heart. Estonian handicraft comes in many forms. There are woollen



Estonian is not widely spoken in the world, so Estonians do not expect short-term visitors to master the local language. Still, local people are thrilled and pleased to hear a foreigner say “Tere!” (Hi!) or “Aitäh (Thank you) in Estonian. Knowledge of foreign languages is naturally a must for hotel staff and numerous other professions in the service sector. Many people are fluent in English, particularly the younger urban generation, and a great number of people also speak Finnish, due to Finnish TV, Finland’s close proximity to Estonia and the great number of Finnish tourists. German is less widely spoken in Estonia, although previous generations have often studied German, not English, at school. Russian-language use has dropped to a point where older people no longer speak the language well and the younger generation have already chosen other languages to learn at school. Studying French has become more popular over the last few years but the number of people who speak French is still quite small.

Estonians are relatively individualistic. There is a saying that five Estonians mean six parties. Even though people agree on the final objective, they insist on reaching it in their own ways. Estonians also value their privacy. In the old days, it was said that the neighbour’s house was close enough if you could see the smoke from the chimney. Modern, tight-packed urbanites flock to remote countryside on the weekends to enjoy more space and privacy. Even though guests at birthday parties and concerts are rather quiet and subdued in the onset, they warm up eventually and turn into a direct opposite of their day-character, as you are likely to see in Tallinn’s clubs.

GROWING THE FUTURE When it comes to organic farming, Estonia is in the top three among EU countries.

Life in Estonia, Winter 2013/2014  

Biotech and Functional Food

Life in Estonia, Winter 2013/2014  

Biotech and Functional Food