Paulig, the Finland-based food-and-beverage group, has backed OlsAro, a Swedish agri-tech start-up developing wheat better able to withstand the impact of the climate crisis.

OlsAro develops new wheat varieties that Paulig said are “resilient to climate stress such as salt, heat, and drought”.

Paulig said the first product OlsAro has developed is a “salt-tolerant wheat”. The Santa Maria tortillas brand owner said the wheat “shows a ground-breaking 52% increase in yields”.

The food manufacturer invested in Göteborg-based OrsAlo through venture arm PINC. The investment, part of a €2.5m ($2.7m) funding round, will “help scale up OlsAro’s efforts, both technologically and commercially”.

“Their results are impressive,” Marika King, the head of Paulig’s PINC arm, said. “Food security matters to all of us and the OlsAro team can speed up solutions for wheat in several areas with their platform, and also for other crops in the future. The combination of the long-term scientific experience in molecular biology and the modern ways of handling data and AI is a key strength at OlsAro and we are excited to see what the team can create going forward.”

According to Paulig, the wheat developed by OlsAro could be used to cultivate saline land that is usually left to recover its fertility during dry seasons. Farmers could then add an extra crop season to their farming cycle, the company explained.

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A Paulig spokesperson told Just Food there would be no changes to its sourcing of wheat.

The spokesperson said the investment is “not directly linked to our own use of wheat”, adding: “PINC is our venture arm and invests in startups related to the future of food, in this case, more efficient and sustainable wheat cultivation. This could come to use for us but also make an impact on the food system at large.”

Paulig set up PINC to invests in early-stage companies in 2018. PINC’s investments have taken in fledgling firms involved in upcycled coffee waste, animal fats, cell-cultured meat and, most recently, gluten-free pizzas.

For the salt-tolerant wheat, OlsAro has a commercial contract in place for the Bangladesh market, as well as ongoing field trials in Pakistan, Kenya, Oman and Nepal.

OlsAro wants to target Australia, India and other countries that have areas of agricultural land under-used by salinity.

Elén Faxö, the CEO of OlsAro said: “This funding will allow us to put a foot on the pedal and scale up our efforts, both technologically and commercially. We are proud of the great investor consortium believing in us, and their experience and networks will help make this happen.”

VC firms AgFunder, Flora Ventures and Mudcake also took part in the funding round.

Paulig’s portfolio includes snacks, spices, dips, salsa and coffee. It owns brands such as Santa Maria, Risenta, Poco Loco and Zanuy. It also manufactures private-label products.

In 2023, the company reported its sales to be €1.2bn. It has about 2,200 employees in 13 countries.

The company uses wheat in its Santa Maria wheat tortillas and tortillas for private-label customers. It sources the ingredient from countries including Sweden, Paulig produces around 2.5bn tortillas a year.