Chef working at a restaurant kitchen
Photo: Maskot/TT

Sustainable food: how Stockholm is driving international change

By Invest Stockholm in collaboration with The Local

Stockholm has an exciting gastronomic scene, an impressive range of tech startups and a long-standing reputation as a bastion of sustainable values.

It’s also one of 14 global cities that signed the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration in 2019, marking a commitment to promote and preserve the health of people and the planet. So when it comes to foodtech, the Swedish capital seems to have all the key ingredients for success.

There’s no denying, however, that the challenges this field faces globally are huge, as scientists, entrepreneurs and policymakers look to create truly sustainable food systems. The Local explores how Stockholm is contributing to this transformation – and discovers the dairy-free, plant-based cheeses produced in the city (and coming to a shop or restaurant near you!)

The case for plant-based foods

“We’re in the middle of a climate crisis that needs bold action across almost every aspect of society,” says Sorosh Tavakoli. “It turns out that the food industry is a big part of the problem, and hopefully can be a big part of the solution as well.”

Tavakoli is the CEO of Stockeld Dreamery, a Stockholm-based company developing vegan-friendly cheeses. The company launched Stockeld Chunk, an alternative to feta, in May 2021, and has big plans for 2022. These include launching a new cream cheese, recruiting more global talent, moving into a new R&D centre in Stockholm, and opening up in the US.

He previously founded, ran and eventually sold software company Videoplaza, so why is Tavakoli now dedicating himself to the quest for sustainable cheeses that don’t compromise on taste?

“I really love cheese and I wanted to tackle a really difficult problem,” he says, explaining how he spent two years thinking through business ideas that could help to tackle climate change. “The use of animals in our food industry is really resource inefficient. We’re wasting so much energy, land, and water, for producing animal feed to then produce food for humans. If we can use those plants to feed humans straightaway, it will have enormous benefits.”

Aiming for the stars

The importance of consumer attitudes to food is one of the many factors explored in a new report on Stockholm’s foodtech scene. Sweden is the world leader in terms of the proportion of people classed as LOHAS consumers (that’s people who follow Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability); research shows that 40 percent of the country shops according to these values.

These people care not only about organic and local options, but also about conditions for workers, packaging materials, biodiversity, and more.

“Stockholm is one of the best places to start a food company in the world,” says Carolin Janmark, COO at Stockholm-based Nicoya, an investment company that backs entrepreneurs with ideas for solving the food system’s big challenges. “A large percentage of the population are progressive consumers, they are open to trying new products and services, it’s a great place to test ideas and scale from here.”

The local history of tech companies such as Spotify and Klarna scaling up to global significance also encourages foodtech entrepreneurs in Stockholm to aim for the stars, she believes.

And why wouldn’t they? Sweden Food Arena, set up in 2019, allows companies and other food industry organisations to collaborate on research and innovation. Then there’s the EU project MatLust. Located in Södertälje, half an hour southwest of Stockholm, it aims to establish the area as a regional engine for a sustainable and innovative food system, and offers free support for small and medium-sized businesses looking to grow.

Pulling in international talent

Tavakoli, who was born in Iran, raised in Sweden and has also lived in London and New York, says people have relocated to Stockholm from across the world to work in R&D and product offerings at Stockeld Dreamery.

“We have people from Argentina, France, Belgium, Italy, Iran, India, Denmark – it’s kind of mind-blowing that they’re all willing to relocate,” he says. So why are they? “It’s because of our mission. Given the funding we have and the things we’re able to work on, it’s a very unique opportunity.”

It also helps that Stockholm is such an attractive place to live and work, he adds. “It’s a dynamic metropolitan city, but it’s set in the midst of this archipelago and also offers something of a green oasis,” he says. “It’s also welcoming to foreigners in terms of people speaking English really well and the ease of all the administrative aspects.”

The company has grown fast since he started it with Anja Leissner in 2019. Stockholm’s “extremely strong investment community” has played a crucial role in this, says Tavakoli (the company has raised more than $24 million to date). So too, he believes, has the mentality he brought from the tech community: “Thinking big, attracting capital, and setting the bar really high.”

In 2022, he expects the company’s number of employees to double to 50, including 15 more people focused on R&D and products.

A taste of Stockholm’s vision

Anna König Jerlmyr, Mayor of Stockholm, says the city’s vision is to become “one of the most sustainable, creative and innovation-driven gastronomic capitals of the world as well as the best playground for business and science to explore and co-create the next generation food system.”

Tavakoli is certainly more than doing his part. Still wondering when you’ll find out more about those cheeses? Made from seven ingredients, including pea protein, fava bean protein, coconut oil and potato starch, Stockeld Chunk took more than two years of tasting and tweaking to produce.

Its developers say it goes well with a bowl of salad, as crumbled pieces in a warm meal or on top of a bowl of soup, and it’s available at selected partners in Stockholm (with many more in Sweden and beyond to follow). Customers will also be able to buy products on the company’s website in the New Year, and the next product, a spreadable cream cheese, is set to launch in April.

Making cheese without milk is incredibly hard, says Tavakoli. But like so many big thinkers in Stockholm, the challenge just drives him on. “You can never confirm something is impossible,” he smiles. “You can just know that it hasn’t yet been done.”