As we have written many times in this newspaper, the food industry is one of the worst environmental villains. One who has been watching this in dismay and decided to do something about it is Henning Lennman, born and raised in Östergötland but since 2013 living in Lund. He is one of the young innovators and entrepreneurs in Scania who with his business also want to make a change for the environment. “One of the reasons I started my company is that I want people to know from where their products come and that as few people as possible are involved in the production chain” he says to Info Express.
Henning Lennman – whose business is called Hennings (Henning’s), because “you as the costumer should experience a personal contact and security when buying Henning’s products” as the website states – has of course, as all entrepreneurs, a wish to establish his company so that he can make a decent living from it. But his main motivation is still not that, he claims. “The food industry is awful”, he says, “where most things travel far, sometimes to several different countries, before they end up on our tables.”
The idea is to use the product that exists everywhere in our environment with as little negative climate impact as possible. Because of that he started with nettles, these often irritating weeds that covers great areas of our country, but which are very nutritious, tasty and healthy if used in the right way.
“The stinging nettle is an amazing natural resource that you find everywhere and that is one of Sweden’s most nutritious plants and more and more people are taking an interest in its field of application and its rich nutrient content. Be a part of the food revolution!” it says on the website, and also on other sites nettles are described as extremely nutritious. An important reason to eat nettles is, thus, that they contain so much iron, vitamin C and lots of other minerals and vitamins, but to Henning it is first and foremost a question about it being a food resource that otherwise is wasted and a production that has practically no negative impact on the environment. He compares with similar foreign products that of course are as nutritious but which are shipped around half the world to get here, which is, to say the least, a bit odd considering the vast access of nettles in Sweden.
The same thing goes for his other products, which he has already started producing or is planning to produce: Rosehip powder and blueberry powder are made from wild berries and the dried sweet cherries are made from berries growing on his parents’ trees, which would be wasted otherwise. The same goes for the apples he is planning to make juice from. In principle he is doing his parents a favour by removing weed and preventing windfall. But even as a picker he thinks ecological. He never cleans the trees or the bushes, but leaves some for the birds.
Henning Lennman grew up on three different farms in Östergötland and has only lived in a big town (Lund) since 2013. “But I definitely don’t feel like a town resident. I am still a real farm boy from Östergötland.”
During his childhood the family mostly dealt with chickens and eggs before they changed and started with sheep and mutton. Now there are sheep, mini pigs, rabbits, cows and horses and all sorts at the farm.
Life-cycle thinking has always been important in Henning’s life. “Since 1996, when my mother, as one of the first in the area, changed the production, we have always been ecological on the farm. My grandmother wanted to stop using chemical pesticides already in the 70s, but she didn’t get any support. But she has always thought like that, that you shouldn’t destroy nature without giving at least as much back. So I think it‘s my mum and my grandmother who has passed it down to us kids. I always try to live as eco-friendly as possible.” But it is a question of how he lives his life. He has never been engaged in the environmental movement and does not want to impose his ideas on others. Instead he hopes, e.g. with his company, to affect people to live more in harmony with nature, and to see the advantages.
I never posed the question whether he, in spite of having four brothers, thinks he was raised in a matriarchy, but it is pretty obvious that his mother and grandmother have made great impact. Most ideas to new products come from his grandmother and his mother gives him a lot of advice considering the production.
When having finished upper secondary school – the Aesthetical program with musical orientation – he applied for a heap of university courses and programmes and ended up in Religious Studies at Lund. The belief in itself was not so interesting, but the history was. After half a year, though, he realised it was not for him. So he quit and started working for the student associations in Lund. There he ended up in the kitchen and then realised what his passion was, which lead to a post-secondary chef course. “On paper I am a qualified chef, but I don’t feel like one. That requires years of experience,” he smiles. However he has worked as a chef, both in Lund and in New Zealand, where he also worked at an ecological farm. On that farm there was a clear entrepreneurial spirit and they used everything, which made Henning think he, himself, could do something similar. Thoughts went to nettles, which his grandmother had always taken care of and that existed en masse at the farms.
He applied for the Gastronomy programme at Kristianstad and at the same time he started picking nettles at Sankt Hans backar. As the handling and the drying went well, he went to his parents’ farm in the summer, picked a lot of nettles, built drying racks, tested and tested and built the company from the ground. In the autumn he started at the Gastronomy programme and there he got in contact with their innovation area, with Krinova and HKR Innovation. They helped him financially as well as with advice so that he could start up the company, in May 2017.
He started with nettle tea and nettle powder, which you for instance can make nettle pesto and nettle soup from. He picked lots of nettles, created labels and learned how to create a website. In November he launched his products for real. Since then it has been quite slow. People are a bit sceptical; they do not know so much about nettles. The rosehip has sold a little better – probably because they are more commonly talked about as a health product – but he did not pick as many rosehips so his entire stock is out.
He sells online and at his parents’ farm shop. In addition, his products are sold by retailers, such as Reko Deli in Lund and Vikingatider in Löddeköpinge, and at markets, which also goes for the sweet cherry. Also in this case it was his grandmother’s tip that started it. “When Granny for the first time made me taste, I realised that this was much better than raisins. Partly because they taste better and partly because they haven’t been shipped from e.g. California or Turkey. These come from Östergötland and I haven’t even used a car to transport them.”
For now he runs his business by himself. He gets some advice from his mother when it comes to production and from HKR Innovation when it comes to presentation techniques and the like, but otherwise he deals with everything from production and label-making to accounting, documentation and contacts with various authorities. Because of this he hasn’t had enough time to do as much sails-promoting activities as he had planned, which means he mostly sells to people who actively seek such products. E.g. new recipes and being more active on social media clearly enhance sales and he hopes, as well as plans, to do more of it in the future. The dream is to be able to employ someone in the production and to find someone to be the public face, so that he can sit as “the cog wheel in the machinery”, which he enjoys the most. Above all he wants to employ within the production to create jobs in the countryside. But even if it turns out that way, he will always be a part of every step. “I will pick along with the others as much as I can.”
At the moment, however, it is about raising the demand and Henning callously expects he has to have a job on the side during the first years to be able to support himself, something that CSN does at the moment.
But considering the actual situation, with climate change that decreases the domestic food production, and in time perhaps will affect also the import, there ought to be a market for those who invest in things that are already there. “I am, admittedly, climate sensitive too – for instance I couldn’t pick any blueberries this summer – but as long as I have the whole forest and an abundance of weed I will always be able to offer several different products.”
Henning As An Entrepreneur
Henning does not consider himself an entrepreneur, but rather a visionary. His basic goal with his company is not economic, he says, but to do something good for himself and the nature, as well as for others.
He has a vision to raise people’s awareness about the food that already exists in the nature. “I rather share my knowledge so that you can go out in the woods and pick everything that is there.” Of course he wants his company to succeed and to expand, but f it turns out that the result of his efforts is that everyone goes out to pick what is already there and as an effect there is no market for his products, he will probably still feel quite satisfied. “It will never happen, though,,” he says, “but it would be a very cool thing if I had affected people in a positive way; if you choose to go out in the nature to pick your own mushroom instead of going to the store and buy mushroom you don’t know who has picked – even if it is Swedish. There are many people being used, especially when it comes to blueberries and lingonberries. It would have felt great to know I had done something good for the world.”
“The ideal is maybe that the 50 per cent living in the countryside go out to pick their own food and the 50 per cent living in towns make the same contribution for the environment by buying my products.”
When questioned why he, specifically, is running this company, he first answers that it probably has to do with other people not thinking you can make a profit from it and so they go for other carriers, and maybe they don’t want to stand on their knees picking nettles for hours. But when I press him for the qualities that make him especially suited, he says that he lives very spartanly and so have no need of the big incomes and therefore can have a long-term plan. In addition he likes sitting by himself picking. He is good in using time to other things while the fingers work. At the moment he listens to a language course in Italian, as his wife-to-be is Italian. “I am perhaps good at using time double, and I am persistent.”
“But I’m hardly the first one picking nettles or rosehip or cherries, and I have talked lot to Granny about why so few people use this resource. The only thing we have concluded is that you can get all you need from the stores.” With a smil he then tells a story about the dairy farmer who for the first time in his life come to a store and wonder why he has wasted 40 years of his life milking cows when there already is milk to buy.
Tips to Other Young Entrepreneurs
“The most important is that you like what you are doing. You shouldn’t just do it for the profit; if you don’t like what you are doing there is no point in doing it. And be very humble and listen to advice. But still make your own decisions. And be stubborn. If you give up after a defeat, then there is no point. You have to get up on that horse again.”