Brands need provenance to survive in the modern cider category: those that can demonstrate a strong back- story and sense of place are thriving and those that cannot are falling by the wayside. British consumers are becoming more discerning about the products they are purchasing and are looking for genuine imports and local, independent producers, and that is a strong factor in Kopparberg’s success. It might not be a brand many in the UK immediately associate with heritage and provenance, but it has a back- story to rival any drinks brand on the market.
Kopparberg is a remote town in central Sweden, surrounded by miles of pine forests and glistening lakes, where the air is clear, the stars shine bright at night and the water is extremely pure. It was founded during the copper boom in the 16th century – hence the name Kopparberg – and the mines still stand today. Nowadays the population is 5,000 and the biggest firm in the area is its eponymous cider and beer producer.
Kopparberg employs 200 people at the brewery, its brands are exported to 45 countries and it is one of the leading players in the UK cider market. Millions of Brits enjoy its broad range of fruit ciders, from 33cl cans to 75cl bottles, light variants to sharing opportunities, and they have become an essential accompaniment to long summer afternoons. But back in 1994, its output was tiny.
The brewery was set up in 1882 and spent 112 years as a niche craft producer. Its fortunes changed when Peter Bronsman saw a newspaper ad revealing that the brewery was for sale for around £500,000 and rallied to find the cash. Bronsman, a young merchant seaman, had recently had an epiphany while adrift with a broken arm in the choppy, shark- infested waters of the South China Sea one dark, lonely night. He fell overboard while tossing rubbish sacks into the sea, and ended up clinging to one of those sacks for hours while shipmates tried to turn the boat around and rescue him. While in the water Bronsman decided a career change was in order, and returned to Sweden to set up a drinks import business with his brother.
OPPORTUNITY TO EXPAND
He spotted an opportunity to expand into production when he noticed the newspaper ad. Kopparberg is blessed with soft water with a perfect mineral content, and when Bronsman purchased the brewery it had stopped producing alcoholic drinks and was focused solely on bottled water. But Bronsman immediately re-hired brewmaster Wolfgang Voigt and set about turning it into a leading beer and cider producer. Bronsman is one of the trade’s great entrepreneurs: to circumnavigate Sweden’s ban on alcohol advertising, he
targeted popular tourist destinations across the Mediterranean so that Swedes would enjoy the drinks abroad and continue buying them when they returned home.
Sales built up in the domestic market in the early 2000s and Bronsman saw an opportunity to target the UK, where cider was enjoying a huge resurgence. Kopparberg did not have the correct distribution channels to crack the market, so Bronsman flew to the UKhimself and started selling his cider to bars in key locations. He earned a listing for Kopparberg pear cider with Wetherspoons, set up UK distribution company Cider of Sweden and the rest is history.
By 2006-07, Kopparberg started replacing Magners and Bulmers as the drink of choice for young adults then, as pear cider’s fortunes plummeted and fruit cider came to the fore, Kopparberg emerged as the dominant force in the category.
It has enjoyed double-digit growth every year since, on the back of bold marketing, careful innovation and – above all – quality. Every drop is produced in the town of Kopparberg, and they set extremely high standards at the brewery.
When Bronsman took over in 1994, there were six members of staff. One retired, another quit, but four are still there. They have watched the brewery grow and grow and grow. When they go on holiday, to London or Greece or Spain or Thailand, staff and others from the area see people drinking the cider that bears the name of their tiny hometown in central Sweden and are liable to swell up with pride.
“The whole town is very proud of it,” says brewmaster and plant manager Rickhard Voigt, Wolfgang’s son. “The people of Kopparberg have a strong work ethic, and they are very happy to see how successful it has been.”
Kopparberg supplies Sofiero, the number one beer in the domestic market, along with a broad range of fantastic brews. But cider accounts for the majority of its output.
The UK is its leading market: Kopparberg’s off-trade cider sales stand at £142.3 million (IRI, year to February 26, 2017), up 12% in value. It is the second largest cider brand in the UK market, adding more value to the category than any other in the past year. The dominant variants are Mixed Fruit, worth £63 million, and Strawberry & Lime, both showing strong growth, making them two of the best performing SKUs in the entire BWS market. It is still the number one in pear, and gaining share in this declining category.
It has avoided the flavour conveyor belt and only launched genuine innovations at carefully chosen times. For example, consumers are becoming more health conscious and opting for lower calorie drinks, so it recently launched 25cl cans of Raspberry, the second variant in its low-calorie Light range. A demand for sharing occasions is another consumer trend, so it launched 75cl bottles of 7% abv sparkling rosé, to be enjoyed in wine glasses or flutes, in a bid to capitalise on the growth in the sparkling wine category. This SKU performed impressively in Asda, where it was initially sold exclusively, and has now been rolled out across the wider off-trade.
It is also bringing back its hugely popular 5-litre Kopparkeg in time for summer. Now it has launched Blueberry & Lime, its first new flavour in three years, because it has tapped into data and analysis showing this is a rapidly growing and on-trend variant within the wider industry. It is in the early stages but the initial performance has been strong.
SUPERB CRAFT BREWS
You may not fully appreciate the craft that goes into producing Kopparberg fruit cider but when you taste the beers it produces, from Hoga Kusten to Ricky’s IPA, you can see that Kopparberg is capable of making superb craft brews that can stand up to any in the world. Voigt is a skilled brewmaster and has a great team, and they devote the same care and attention to crafting their fruit ciders. Some are sweet because they are meant to be: that is exactly what consumers are demanding, and the sales figures speak for themselves.
A big focus this year is Kopparberg fruit lager, the 5% abv brew blended with lemon and lime, which is receiving a big marketing push this summer. The team at the brewery tried more than 50 different recipes before creating the perfect fruit lager, where the bitterness of the hops does not contradict the citrus fruit and you are left with a rounded, balanced taste that is delicious and refreshing without being in any way cloying. It is an exciting addition to the current range, taking Kopparberg’s fruit expertise into the beer category. It provides a great alternative to standard lager as it offers added refreshment but does not compromise on taste.
There is every reason to think Kopparberg’s sales will continue to soar in the UK, and the off-trade will be at the forefront. Mixed Fruit and Strawberry & Lime are growing sales in the outlets they are in and continue to perform well. Blueberry & Lime and Fruit Lager show great potential, as do the Light variants and the sparkling rosé. It has also seen extraordinary growth in 10-packs of 33cl cans, which have gained £9.5 million in value in the past 12 months as consumers seek a more convenient option. It is all backed by a £6 million summer marketing campaign this year, running across all brands, taking in outdoor, digital, PR, social media, TV, experiential and in-store activation.
People in the town of Kopparberg will continue working hard to meet increased demand, and there is every reason for retailers to back this winning horse and give it the shelf space it deserves.