‘I wanted to do something different from everyone else’

Jonathan Boutin moved to Sweden at the age of 20, and over a decade later his adventure has taken him across the country and through different jobs. He tells The Local how he went from a car parts factory to setting up a vegan bakery.

'I wanted to do something different from everyone else'
Jonathan with his family in Stockholm. Photo: Malin Mörner

“I had no goals or plans but wanted to do something different from everyone else,” says the Canadian expat, who was first drawn to Sweden by his girlfriend at the time. “After a few years of going back and forth between Sweden and Montreal, I realized it would be cheaper just to move here.”

Boutin arrived in Småland in the south of the country with no knowledge of Swedish and no idea what he wanted to do. His girlfriend’s family helped him find a job in a factory, preparing car parts for delivery, where the Montreal native picked up the language by listening to his colleagues.

“It took about six months for me to start understanding them, and then I began asking questions,” says Boutin. “After about a year I could converse.”

He adds that the language is the biggest hurdle for expats trying to integrate, but that if you make the effort, “you can assimilate, and it’s extra special because you still have your own culture and stick out, but you’re also part of a group”.

In fact, after 18 months at the hubcap factory, Boutin applied for a sales position in a mall, working entirely in Swedish, and later becoming a store manager. “I found that I had a knack for sales, and because I had a bit of an accent, it made it a little more interesting!”

Over the next few years, Boutin moved around Sweden in various sales and management roles, eventually joining a company specializing in online scheduling software. The company grew from five to 50 employees in five years, and Boutin travelled across Europe in his roles first in Business Development and later as International Marketing Director. “I liked it because it was the future, and it was needed,” he says.

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His current job fills another niche, but this time he is working with “the future of food” – Gott by Malin, a bakery providing cakes which are vegan, gluten- and lactose-free. The company was actually the brainchild of his current Swedish partner, Malin Hernström, a personal trainer.

Many of Hernström's customers would ask if they could go for fika straight after their training sessions, and she became increasingly frustrated at the lack of alternatives to the traditional sugar-laden Swedish cakes. Taking inspiration from the raw food movement sweeping across Canada, the US and Australia, she began making raw food balls to sell to her clients.

One of the cakes. Photo: Private

“Then her colleagues' customers started ordering them, and I used my network to do research, and discovered that there was a definite need for an ‘alternative fika’,” explains Boutin. “At the end of 2013, I decided I was going to focus on this.”

He left his Marketing Director role and set about building a kitchen for the raw food bakery from scratch, applying his sales experience to a new product.

The couple had big ambitions from the start. “We built it as a volume business to cater to large orders – so we needed customers. We knew that meant it would be tough in the beginning and the first year was very difficult,” says Boutin. “When we started, I knew I could sell but had no idea in what direction we would go. Now we know our strengths and what to do, but we made mistakes and tried to do everything at once.”

Six months into their bakery business, a new challenge came along – the couple had their son, Jack Sven. Although this meant Malin was unable to work for several months, the baby also gave the couple motivation to persevere with their goal.

“We want to do our bit to make the world a better place for him to grow up in,” says Boutin. “From the start we noticed there was a huge potential. Vegan or raw food can sound boring, people imagine grass-like clumps of pure nutrition, so our focus has always been on making it taste good but also look good – it just doesn't have a bunch of crap in it!”

The bakery started out with one regular customer ordering 20 raw food balls each month, but grew quickly; the last few months have involved a lot of investments in new kitchen equipment to increase productivity and meet the demand for the alternative fika. Swedish department store NK was the bakery’s first big name customer, but clients now include household names in Stockholm such as Urban Deli, Johan&Nyström, Paradiset and Scandic Hotels.

Jonathan, Malin and Jack. Photo: Malin Mörner

“We wanted to make a bakery instead of just a healthy cafe, because there are already a few of those and we wanted these alternatives to be more spread out, to be available anywhere – at regular cafes and not just 'health cafes' – so that people always have that choice,” says Boutin.

Although Gott by Malin has grown, the couple still own 100 percent of the company and Malin approves each recipe personally.

They also take care to balance the demands of the business with their family life. “We have clear guidelines on who does what, and we turn everything off after a certain time every day. We don’t talk about work at the weekends.”

As well as supplying to cafes, the bakery draws in a lot of private orders, including birthday cakes for children. “These orders make me really happy, it shows that other parents also have the same vision for the future,” says Boutin, adding that Jack will be getting a Gott by Malin cake for his second birthday.

Photo: Private

Boutin explains that in his first years in Sweden, he moved between cities and jobs “because I always got bored and needed something new.” But he has grown fond of his adopted country and says: “My roots are in Montreal, but my home and life are in Sweden. The standard of living kept me here, and now I have a family, it's the best place to be.”

The only things he misses about Canada? “My family – and proper hockey!”

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How to grow your own fruits and vegetables in Sweden

Whether you were a keen gardener or not before you moved to Sweden, growing in the Nordic climate might not be quite what you're used to. The Local spoke to master gardener John Taylor for his tips on growing veg in Sweden.

How to grow your own fruits and vegetables in Sweden

Know your growing zone

Sweden is split into eight different growing zones, known as växtzoner in Swedish, with one being the mildest zone in the far south of the country and eight being the harshest, in the far north.

The easiest way to figure out which zone you live in is to search your address on a digital growing zone chart like this one from the Swedish Garden Association.

There are two “bonus” zones too, which you’re unlikely to see on plant labels: zone zero, which refers to extra mild conditions in zone one, like a sheltered south-facing garden or the climate inside an unheated greenhouse, and the fjällzon or zone nine, which is found in mountain regions.

Lots of fruit trees can handle snow, for example, but not all of them will survive the winters in harsher, colder zones.

“Apple trees or fruit trees will survive snow,” British gardener and cider maker John Taylor, known for presenting Swedish gardening show Trädgårdstider (Garden Times), told The Local.

“You can grow all kinds of apples, pears, plums, cherries, we can grow edible quince in southern Sweden, so there’s a bunch of fruit trees which will survive, but it depends what rootstock they’re on – that’s called grundstam in Swedish,” he explained.

“There’s one rootstock called B9 that survives down to minus 40, because it’s from Russia, then there’s another called M106, and that probably doesn’t want to live in the depths of Norrland.”

Buy plants local to you

An easy way to make sure the plant you’re planning on buying is going to survive in your zone is by sourcing it from a local plant nursery or garden centre, as they won’t sell plants that can’t handle the local climate.

“There’s a nursery in the north of Sweden and Finland called Blomkvists, they sell lots of fruit varieties which will survive up there,” Taylor said. “You can grow pretty much anything you want up there, just as we can [in Skåne, southern Sweden], but it will be different varieties that taste different and will survive the frost.”

You won’t be able to grow Mediterranean fruits like lemons or oranges in Sweden unless you bring them inside during the winter, although you should be able to grow peaches or nectarines in most of the country.

“The further up in the country you go, the further north you are or the further away from the coast, the harsher the climate becomes, so you might need to have them on a south-facing wall or in a greenhouse,” Taylor said.

Think outside the box

Although the growing season in Sweden may be shorter than it is further south, there are still a number of crops from warmer climates that do surprisingly well.

“People don’t really grow cucumbers outside here, I don’t think they realise that you can actually grow them outside,” Taylor said. “Tomatoes, too. You don’t need a greenhouse, you just stick them in the ground, they’re basically a weed – you’ll get so many you won’t know what to do with them.”

Sweetcorn, for example, performs well in a Swedish climate, Taylor said, although Swedes more often grow it as a feed crop for pigs.

You can also test things by trying to build a microclimate so you can grow things that are one or even two growing zones away from yours. Usually this is done by providing shelter from the wind and the weather using fences, hedges or by planting near buildings, as well as providing protection during the winter.

And if you’re pushed for space, look into companion planting, where you can grow multiple plants which complement each other in the same space.

One example of this is the “three sisters”: corn, climbing beans (or peas), and squash. The corn provides a support for the beans or peas, which anchor the corn in high winds while fixing nitrogen in the soil, while the squash’s large leaves provide shade for the soil, preventing it from drying out.

Don’t be put off just because you don’t have any outside space

Thinking outside the box applies to balconies too.

“If you’re in a built-up area, you will get reflected light from other buildings, so even if you’re on an east-facing balcony, you should be able to grow a lot of stuff. North is a bit more tricky, but east and west are probably better than south as you’re not getting hammered by the sun all day,” Taylor said.

You should be able to grow things like tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers, but it’s important to get hold of good soil and replenish it each year, so your plants have enough nutrients.

“Anybody with a balcony can grow pretty much the same that you can in a garden, you just have to get the soil up there and you always have to fertilise, the soil becomes nutrient deficient after one season.”

“But if you’re prepared to get the soil up on your balcony you can grow anything, even fruit trees. They will be smaller and stunted, and won’t give as much fruit – I’ve done it myself – so don’t see it as an obstacle, see it as a possibility.”

Kale and tomatoes growing on a balcony. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Take inspiration from Swedish growers

Thinking outside the box doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore what all your Swedish neighbours are doing. If you’re not sure what to plant in your garden or what fruit and veg you should try to grow, take a look at what other people who live near you are growing.

You might also come across some crops you’ve never tried before which work well in a Swedish climate, like Alpine strawberries (smultron), honeyberries (blåbärstry), wild garlic (ramslök) or sea buckthorn (havtorn).

This doesn’t just apply to varieties, but also where you plant them in your garden. Some crops need full sun, some work best in shade, and others, like asparagus, can grow tall and cast a shadow over your garden.

“You want a south-facing location for all fruit, and berries – check out what your neighbours are doing,” Taylor said.

If you don’t want tall plants to cast a shadow over other crops, see if you can plant them at the northernmost edge of your garden, while making sure that sun and soil conditions are still optimal. Blueberries, for example, need acidic soil to thrive, meaning you will probably need to amend your soil if planting in the ground, or even plant them in containers.

Think about what you want to do with your harvest

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to plant what you like to eat, too. If you hate the aniseedy, licorice-y taste of fennel, why bother growing it?

You should also choose the variety of crop based on what you’re going to use it for. Do you want to make pickles with your cucumbers, or are you going to eat them on salads? Do you want cherry tomatoes for snacking on, or big beef tomatoes for making sauces?

“Think ‘what am I going to do with my harvest’,” Taylor said. “Am I going to juice it? Am I going to preserve it? Am I going to make cider with it, for example?”

Apples, for example, can range from sweet eating apples to tart cooking apples, so make sure you do your research before you commit to buying an apple tree. Most varieties exist in English-speaking countries, so you should be able to search the name of the variety online and find some information in a language you understand, if you don’t speak Swedish.

“Patience is a virtue,” he added. “A lot of fruit trees are going to take two or three years, or even more, to give a harvest. So you have to have patience.”

Learn to deal with the Swedish weather

Many areas of Sweden along the coast or in the south of the country can get windy, which you’ll have to learn to deal with.

“How to deal with the wind? You can’t,” Taylor said. “We cannot affect this, we are powerless.”

“What you have to do is plant them in areas where there’s less wind, usually behind large buildings.”

Some plants simply won’t survive the wind, so either you plant them close to buildings, protect them, or accept that you’re restricted in what you can grow.

Make sure to provide supports for crops which will grow tall, like sunflowers, peas, beans and sweetcorn, and tie these down well or bury them deep in the ground, so summer storms can’t blow them away.

Listen to the full interview with John Taylor in The Local’s Sweden in Focus Extra podcast for Membership+ subscribers. Out on Wednesday, May 8th.