Every year, thousands of Estonians traditionally turn to birch trees to tap them for their lightly sweet, fresh and healthy sap. But now an international market is growing around the beverage, which Estonians hope to exploit.
This year, Harju County-based company Kloostrimetsa Fideikomiss sent 20 tons of sap to Italy, where it is used in natural cosmetics, Maaleht reported. Company's manager Ando Eelmaa said that the company has been in the birch sap business for about a decade. Most of the sap is exported, some goes to waste, as the need in the internal market is small - people simply aren't used to buying it.
Industrial scale production of birch sap first started in Finland in the 1990s with Arto and Susanne Maaranen's small family business. Today, they export the sap under the brand of Nordic Koivu to many different countries.
The London Evening Standard recently hailed birch sap as the "coconut water of 2015". An opportunity for Estonia? Possibly, but... The international market is already populated with brands from several countries, including the above-mentioned Nordic Koivu, Belarus's Byarozavik Birth Tree Water, and Denmark's Sealand Original Birk.
The Latvian beverage company Sula has also announced its plan to start exporting products made from birch sap to European markets. Sula is currently producing birch sap soft drink and birch sap sparkling wine for the Latvian market, Public Broadcast of Latvia reported in March.
Estonia's birch water producer Nopri farm started selling its product in selected stores and markets only a year ago. Last year, they collected 8 tons of sap, which was fermented before being bottled. Birch sap is collected over a short harvesting period in early spring and has a very limited shelf life, so fresh juice is difficult to sell.
Producers say that collecting the juice is not a problem, but marketing it is much more complicated.
"Birch sap is an unused opportunity in Estonia," Tiit Niilo, the owner of Nopri Farm, told Maaleht.
However, in cooperation with researchers at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the farm is trying to develop new products from the sap, including lemonade, ice-cream and concentrate.