Creative and design-driven food and beverage ventures

DesignBites investigates the needs and practices of experimentation and design work in food and beverage startups and SMEs amidst their internationalisation efforts. The launch of the project in 2018 has been funded by Antti and Jenny Wihuri Foundation. During the first year  of the research project, we’ve focused on Finnish startups food and drink ventures, tracking the development activities of 17 companies ranging from premium food and drinks with local ingredients to creating new markets and consumption patterns. In 2019, we’re broadening our view to different ecosystems across the world.

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Different ways of co-creating and experimenting

Most development efforts with external stakeholders we’ve seen so far can be grouped into one of four types of efforts. Frequent customer test sessions are integral to particularly flavor development efforts, such as the ice creams of Kolmen Kaverin Jäätelö. Showrooms and test laboratories are created to both promote the brands of food and beverage ventures as well as to bring consumers and business partners closer to the product development activities. In addition to working with consumers directly, collaborating with bartenders or restaurants to co-create or gather feedback on their products has been utilized especially in beverage ventures. On the other hand, particularly in the case of new food categories products, such as cricket products, working with local smaller niche distributors such as Ruohonjuuri shop has often been an important place to introduce and test new products in the market and gather feedback from ‘early adopter’ customers.

 What is being designed?

The food or drink itself, its packaging, brand and stories are the most frequent objects of design in food and beverage ventures. As one of food entrepreneur remarked:

You need to sell the product to the consumer twice, first with the package and a second time with the taste.

In addition to preserving the goods inside, package design issues focus around two issues: standing out and conveying quality. Attention to fine details is both a way of conveying quality and building stories. For example, Kyrö Distillery’s unique font was derived from an historical war memorial  and ‘the Seal of approval’ found in the bottle caps was a quirky way add something special to the mandatory seal needed for export. Stories were also built into the names of products, such as Nord-T craft tea blends like ”Barefoot biking”, ”Polar Night Cap” and ”Sunset at Noon”.

NORD-T Barefoot Biking tea / @nordtcompany

Expanding across borders

The need to understand foreign markets and customers before exporting products varies greatly between ventures. Some rely heavily on the know-how of a local importer, others prefer to personally learn about the market and build connections in the foreign surroundings. For example, in the case of Goodio, understanding the local market has been a prerequisite and vital part of the internationalization process. They personally tested sales in a number of New York stores, pre-establishing desirability to provide more leverage in negotiating with importers.

For many of our case companies, social media channels and an active presence in for example Instagram and Facebook had not only increased brand awareness and sales, but also attracted business-to-business interest from abroad. Many requests to import products, some leading to distribution agreements and sales, had come through for example an Instagram message.

Gold & Green Pulled Oats package / @goldandgreenfoods

On the other hand, new food and beverages might demand completely new markets. Here ventures might have to expand considerable effort to educate and create a demand for new ingredients and types of products. Design can help in this, for example Gold&Green creating their initial pulled oats packages to look and feel much like the minced meat packages that have been traditional staples of household cooking in Finland.


When the three founders of 3 Kaveria (“three friends”) were designing their first products, they created quick prototypes of the packaging and took these to the freezer aisle of a store to test them in context. This testing led to a crucial turn:


Tua BjörklundDesignBites