1883: BERNER’S STORY BEGINS IN FINLAND
The story of Berner Ltd began when Sören Berner, a Norwegian citizen, arrived in Helsinki in the 1880s to explore the market in a city of 40,000 inhabitants. He decided to start business operations in Finland by bringing herring directly from the Norwegian fishing site Stavanger to Helsinki.
Sören was born in 1859 into an old Norwegian crafts and merchant family and learned the art of selling herring thoroughly at home.
Sören rented an office room at Eteläranta 6, and he acquired the right to conduct business on 28 July 1883. The beginning was quite modest and the young merchant himself handled sales, travel and accounting.
THE TURN OF THE 20TH CENTURY: THE AGENCY IS BORN
As customer relations expanded, Berner expanded the company’s wholesale business with other fish products. Grain trade gained a significant position in the company’s operations already in the 1890s. Berner was one of the first to start importing wheat flour from the United States.
In addition to salt, grain and fish products, Berner also imported rarer delicacies such as marzipan, liquorice and raisins.
1920–1930s: GROWTH IN EXPORTS, CROP PROTECTION PRODUCTS ENTER THE MARKET
Export trade became ever more important, for example, with paper exports to African countries and Singapore, cheese exports to Germany, and veneer exports to London and Hamburg. Berner broke new ground by opening direct connections in Brazil, making Berner a pioneer in the import of coffee to Finland. Paulig, for example, bought coffee through Berner.
The increase in trade was also reflected in the creation of specialised departments, the first of which were the chemicals and foodstuffs department and the textile agency department. Subsidiaries were established in New York and Hamburg.
As agriculture developed, imports were extended to include fertilisers. In the 1930s, Berner was the first Finnish company to offer crop protection products, for which farmers needed extensive advice.
1940s: WAR YEARS AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
The effects of rationing during the war years were visible in Finland for a long time. Berner responded to the growing demand by importing, for example, potato flour, corn starch, glycerine and canned meat. Veterinary medicine was also introduced and later expanded to other medical supplies and laboratory equipment in the following decades.
In the 1940s, the company started distributing the share of profit to all employees and developing employee well-being. The progressive policies included occupational healthcare services and dental care. Employees were given every alternate Saturday off and a three-week summer holiday
1950s: FIRST FACTORY IN HELSINKI
Berner responded to the post-war reconstruction in the 1950s by, for example, acquiring the first cosmetics distributorship.
As war reparations, lubricating oil was delivered to the Soviet Union, which had been developed at the company’s new factory in Herttoniemi, Helsinki, which opened in 1952. The first product of the in-house product development was XZ hair oil treatment.
Establishing an automobile department was a remarkable innovation for Berner, and Berner was able to acquire the distributorship of Chrysler, for example.
At the beginning of the 1950s, Berner had approximately 60 employees.
1960s–1970s: EXPANSION OF PRODUCTION AND OPERATIONS
In-house production started at a rapid pace, and with the car imports of the 1960s, the product range expanded to include not just hair care but car care products. As a result of the company’s product development, Korrek car care products were launched.
The business operations expanded to the trade of medical equipment and materials. Sport, forklift trucks and foodstuffs departments were founded. Berner began selling Eva sewing machines and they are welcomed in Finnish homes as the oil crisis and depression plague the country.
1980–1990s: FIRST ACQUISITIONS AND ESTABLISHMENT IN THE BALTICS
In the 1980s, Berner began its operations in the institutional kitchen cleaning sector and continued to invest in the hospital equipment business. In the 1990s, the company’s acquisition of technochemical operations from Alko Ltd (e.g. Lasol) and Sareko Agro Ltd helped Berner to become a leading company in Finland in the crop protection field.
The 1990s also saw Berner purchase the operations and facilities of Bergenheim Yhtiöt (Instrumentarium). In the late 1990s, Berner established a subsidiary (Berner Eesti Oü) in Estonia, which later expanded to Lithuania and Latvia.
EARLY 21ST CENTURY: ACQUISITIONS AND A FACTORY IN HEINÄVESI
The early years of the 21st century were a time of significant acquisitions. Berner acquired well-known brands such as Nokian Footwear, LV sensitive skin products, Herbina hygiene line, Rajamäki vinegar business and Grow How business, which was later renamed GreenCare.
Berner acquired a Swedish wholesaler of crop protection substances, Gullviks, which was later merged with Bröderna Berner Handels AB.
The Heinävesi technochemical factory in eastern Finland was purchased from Norwegian Reidar Jakobsen, and the manufacturing of water-based hygiene products was transferred there from the Herttoniemi factory in 2001.
In 2008, Berner decided to centralise all logistics operations in the new logistics centre in Viinikkala, Vantaa. The logistics centre opened in January 2009.
BEGINNING OF THE 2010s: NEW FACTORIES IN HEINÄVESI
One of the biggest investments in Berner’s history was finalised in 2014 when the new factories opened in Heinävesi. Rajamäki’s production of vinegars was transferred to this new location.
In the same year, Berner acquired the Lithuanian Kruzas Nordic Cosmetics Distribution. This deal makes Berner one of the leading cosmetics importers and distributors in the Baltic countries.
From 1987 to 2013, the company’s CEO was George Berner, the grandson of Sören Berner, the founder of Berner Ltd.
After George Berner retired on 1 September 2013, Antti Korpiniemi, Member of the Board, Director for Plant Protection and Garden Care business division, was appointed as the new CEO by Berner Ltd’s Board of Directors.
THE END OF THE 2010s: ACQUISITIONS CONTINUE
The end of the decade was a busy time in terms of acquisitions. Berner acquired the business operations of Ordior Ltd, a company specialising in the sales and import of laboratory equipment in Finland and Estonia, which was previously part of the University Pharmacy Group.
The year 2017 marked a new beginning in Berner’s new head office. New modern premises opened in Herttoniemi, Helsinki.
With the purchase of Make-Trade, more well-known brands, such as the French BIC, were added to the brand portfolio.
In 2018, Berner celebrated the 135th anniversary of operations. It was also a milestone year for Berner’s iconic rubber boot brands, with Nokian Footwear reaching 120 and Hai 50 years. Berner acquired the business operations of the magnesium chemicals producer Catrock Ltd and its subsidiary located in Kokemäki. The new subsidiary Berner Chemicals will further develop the manufacture of magnesium products in Kokemäki, complementing the service portfolio of Berner Industries.
2020s: COVID-19 AND GROWTH
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Heinävesi factory produced 10 times more disinfectant products in July 2020. Berner also sought growth through 10 acquisitions in 2021 and 2022, strengthening its position in all four business units: consumer products, healthcare and laboratories, agriculture and industry. The machines business unit was divested in 2021.
Berner acquired approximately 8% of the shares of Apetit Plc, a listed company, and Belor Agro, a fertiliser company. In the acquisition of the grain trade business of Apetit, Berner acquired the Finnish grain trade business, as well as the grain stocks and port operations in Finland.
With the 85% acquisition of Chemigate, Berner’s role as an important and long-term partner to the industry was further strengthened. Chemigate acquired the majority of the votes in Finland’s leading manufacturer of starch potato products, Finnamyl Group.
Berner’s position in health technology products was strengthened when the company acquired 90% of Suomen MediTuote, the Swedish Dolema, the Finnish Haltija Group and the Swedish ClaraLab.
The acquisition of Naviter Ltd, a manufacturer of skin and hair care products, strengthened Berner’s position in the cosmetics market. The Berner Group has grown into a company with more than 800 employees.