It all started from a tiny cottage
Did you know that Ruohonjuuri was founded in 1982? Luckily, there’s no sign of a mid-life crisis!
“The story of Ruohonjuuri began with a small wooden building on the current site of Forum in Helsinki city centre. This was the meeting place of a group of environmentally-aware young people, one of whom was studying in Germany. The youngster studying in Germany was enthusiastic about recycled paper, which was unavailable in Finland in the early 1980s. So the student began dragging recycled paper to Finland in his backpack. Its huge popularity inspired the idea of founding a company. Ruohonjuuri Oy was thus established to engage in the import and sale of recycled paper,” says Arto Ranta-Aho, CEO of Ruohonjuuri.
Times have changed, as has the product range. In the 1980s, organic products were regarded as being for cranks only, and ecology was very much a minority issue. The popularity of Ruohonjuuri gradually grew alongside environmental awareness. Ruohonjuuri was therefore initially run by volunteers, on a highly idealistic basis.
All sorts of things have happened over the years at Ruohonjuuri
Events of all kinds were organized, from ‘vegetarian ham’ bingo to singles nights. At Ruohonjuuri’s MayDay event organized at the VR warehouses in Helsinki, people in bumblebee hats ran around in the pouring rain. One day, the Dalai Lama entered the store, to buy hemp shoes from Ruohonjuuri. On one occasion, French tourists were accidentally locked inside the labyrinthine shop — but this too was resolved without the help of the authorities.
The period during which Ruohonjuuri operated from the VR warehouses was particularly eventful: thieves occasionally entered via the doors and windows, but good spirits were maintained on the whole. The VR warehouses were once a lively event center and Ruohonjuuri was an integral part of this buzz. One of the fondest memories from Ruohonjuuri’s history is of the time when people formed a human chain, linking hands around the VR warehouses to demand the protection of the buildings. There was a strong community buzz around the warehouses in other ways, too.
In commercial terms, Christmas sales were highlighted during the VR warehouse period, when Ruohonjuuri sold a wide range of products from developing countries, which Finns from the provinces came to buy. In the early days, the nature of Ruohonjuuri as an information kiosk was emphasized: at times, the store seemed more like an eco-advice point than an eco-themed store.
From the margins to the mainstream
Despite the desire to protect the buildings, the decision was taken to dismantle VR's warehouses — eventually, they actually burned down. Ruohonjuuri’s flagship store moved to its current location in Kamppi . Gradually, new stores were established around the country. There are now 16 Ruohonjuuri stores in Finland. Two stores operated in Stockholm for a couple of years, under the name of Happy Food Store.
“Ruohonjuuri was originally associated with a starry-eyed impulse to save the world, but since then we have refined our concept in the direction of wellbeing,” says Arto Ranta-aho.
Ruohonjuuri has had a hand in many developments over the years, playing a major role in developing the popularity of superfood products in Finland.
“I’ve felt hugely privileged to have a ringside seat at Ruohonjuuri, from which to observe the rise of various eco-innovations and trends. Many issues have passed from lunatic fringe to mainstream during Ruohonjuuri's long history.
For example, recycled paper and organic products seemed weird in the early 1980s, but are now everyday items. Many companies have also started out by engaging in activities alongside Ruohonjuuri. For example, Ruohonjuuri was the first — anywhere in the world — to sell the world-conquering Lunette menstrual cup. Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas, which has now grown into a fairly large beverage company, started out in cooperation with Ruohonjuuri.
Although much has changed, the focus on fairness and building a better world remains. The wellbeing of the environment and people remains central to Ruohonjuuri's operations.
How has Ruohonjuuri continued to cherish its original spirit?
“We at Ruohonjuuri feel that choices matter and that the world is a place worth saving. We still have our old joy of work, our drive, and a certain spirit of rebellion — which is a good thing,” says Johanna Koskinen, who has been Ruohonjuuri's Marketing Director for almost 20 years.
“All of Ruohonjuuri's activities are approached with a twinkle in the eye, in a positive spirit — even health-related issues are not handled in a deadly serious way.
The future of Ruohonjuuri looks bright
“Although Ruohonjuuri is open to the world, we have always taken a multidisciplinary approach, mixing science and the arts. Our unique and strong corporate culture is at the heart of Ruohonjuuri's success,” Arto explains.
The future of Ruohonjuuri looks bright, despite the intensifying competition. Interest in responsibility and wellbeing is growing. Even as digitalization becomes a bigger factor in Ruohonjuuri's operations, Ruohonjuuri will continue to be co-created in cooperation with its customers.
“Humanity, a friendly face and genuine, personal customer service have been important to us from the beginning, and will continue to be so. The future of Ruohonjuuri depends on its customers. Of course, customers are the number one issue for us,” Johanna sums up.