Ninni Kronberg conquers the powdered milk world

Yes, I know, another Swedish inventor, but hey, I’m Swedish and I want to toot our own horn sometimes. We are pretty bad at that but I generally have no trouble doing so, so why not. I know it’s not very jantelag1 of me but I don’t really care.

This week I want to introduce you to a woman whose patent laid the foundation for the company Semper AB. Maria Johanna (Ninni) Kronberg (1874- 1949) was a Swedish inventor and self-taught physiologist in nutrition born in Gävle. Her education was mostly handled by guvernants and she never got a studentexamen (a university entrance examination that doesn’t exist today). At age 22 she married a wholesale merchant and 1919 the pair discovered a new way to make yeast that they patented. Ninni’s husband was also a partner in a local malt house and she was active in the business together with her husband. The business, and the marriage, failed and they separated 1922 (the divorce was finalized 1925). After the divorce Ninni moved to a friend whose husband was consul Wilhem Westrup on Rydsgårds gods (Rydsgård manor) in Skåne, and it was there that her career really took off.

On the manor they had tried to conserve milk without success, which she became interested in. With her knowledge from her previous business, she developed the leavening agent ‘Practic’, which was promoted by a company (AB Practic Comp Ltd) that she founded with the Westrups’. Her research in nutrition physiology continued and 1927 she patented a milk serum, which purpose was to be used for dough conditioner. This patent was the first Ninni got in her own name and was a big step towards her success with powdered milk.

There was an abundance of milk in Sweden in the 1930s, but it was impossible to export since it expired so quickly. Since milk powder doesn’t sour like regular milk the powdered milk industry was very important as you could avoid wasting so much milk. After several years of work, Ninni patented a new method to make powdered milk in 1934 (patent 85916). Now, she was not the only one to study this area, but her method was a huge improvement on the existing methods and her discovery certainly became one of the most successful ones. Ninni’s following patent in 1937 (patent 96765) laid the foundation for a whole new industry that still thrives today. The ministry of agriculture in Sweden considered the discovery so important that they rewarded it with grant-aid, on the condition that a Swedish company was founded to use it.  This lead to the now famous company called Semper AB.

Axel Wenner-Gren, tycoon and founder of Electrolux, snatched up the idea and, the first of september 1939, started production at Sweden’s first true powdered milk factory. In the beginning the company was named Svenska Mjölkprodukter AB, SMP, (Swedish Milk products AB), and didn’t change name to Semper until 1963. Ninni Kronberg wasn’t a part of the board and the company instead signed a licence agreement which allowed them to produce the powdered milk according to her patent.

SMP started a factory in Kimstad while the headquarters was stationed in Stockholm. The idea was to export much of the product, but the war put a halt to those plans and instead they delivered a lot of powdered milk to the Swedish volunteers in Finland and war preparations at home. This was enough to give the company a decent start and a second factory was opened in Götene.

Ninni continued to do research and founded the company AB Skånskt bindmedel, which was supposed to use and further develop powdered milk as binding agent for charcuteries, something she patented 1935 (87636), and was for a time also active in Kimstad simultaneously. In 1940 she got new funding to continue research, among other things she created a native concentrated fodder for cattle that replaced foreign seedcakes during the war.

The 1940s was, unfortunately, shadowed by legal conflicts and Ninni died the 1st October 1949, when she was 75 years old. Semper still list Ninni’s innovation as the start for the company; and today, the company primarily focus on baby food, gluten free products and breast milk substitute. My own home, for an example, is filled with Semper products (as I live in a gluten free household) and Ninni’s discovery continues to be of value to the world.


1: law of jante; a very confusing, and often frustrating, Nordic trait that’s hard to explain, but basically tells you to not think you’re anything special. It’s a huge part of who we are as a society here up north. Stay humble, basically.

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