The man who brought Swedish pear cider to the UK
Kopparberg’s pear cider took the drinking world by storm when it was introduced to the UK and Ireland in the mid-2000s, kick-starting a British love affair with fruit ciders.
The UK rapidly became the biggest consumer of Kopparberg’s ciders, overtaking Kopparberg’s native Sweden and Finland, and over the past 8 years, the brand has grown to become the best-selling packaged (as opposed to draught) cider in British pubs and bars.
The success has arguably been a long time coming given that the original brewery in the tiny town of Kopparberg, in southern central Sweden, was first set up in 1882.
Since 1993 though, the brewery has been firing on all cylinders. Brothers Peter and Dan-Anders Bronsman bought the struggling brewery out of bankruptcy, and rapidly turned it into Sweden’s largest cider and beer producer.
Meanwhile, Davin Nugent had spotted Kopparberg’s pear cider in bars in Cork and saw that it had a very strong rate of sale. Nugent approached Peter Bronsman to lead the brand in Ireland, and eventually became managing director of Kopparberg UK.
Since then, Nugent has helped Kopparberg hit a turnover of £120m in 2013, and the business now employs 36 people across the UK.
We caught up with him to find out what’s in store for the company in 2014.
Hi Davin. The world is finally opening up to cider. How is Kopparberg hoping to take advantage of the boom in interest?
There’s huge potential for us at the moment. Our focus for the UK, and what we want to try and achieve, is to be the largest cider brand by penetration. So this isn’t a volume game for us, because if you’re chasing volume, you end up doing the pile high, sell cheap deals in the off-trade [outside pubs and bars]. And that’s not the type of brand we are. We’re a premium brand and that’s where we’re going to stay.
Internationally, we’ve just agreed a deal with SAB Miller, the second-largest beer company in the world. They’re taking on the distribution rights for Kopparberg in emerging markets, starting with Australia.
Are there options for limitless growth at Kopparberg?
That’s the beauty of the area! There’s plenty of land around it. We’ve grown enormously over the last eight years off the back of what the UK has delivered, so we’re just adding on every year and building new capacity.
All Kopparberg is made in Sweden in Kopparberg town, and it will never be made anywhere else. Demand is there, so the brewery has been investing heavily to cater to that.
Will you be introducing any more flavours?
I think we have to be careful about this. Kopparberg was the first pear cider in the UK and the first fruit cider in the UK, and over the last eight years I believe we have pioneered what is now a very thriving fruit cider market. I remember being scoffed at by competitors and by retailers when we first introduced our pear cider and persuaded them to take it, and they wouldn’t even hear of our fruit cider. Flash forward and you have every single brand doing this – Stella are about to launch their fruit cider, through to Heineken and Strongbow.
The danger is to feel that you have to keep on producing flavours in order to stay ahead of the market. We think that if we keep on producing flavours year after year, then it will just take away the value. We have to learn the mistakes from other categories, where if you produce a flavour for every day of the week people will get frustrated.
What are the challenges for the company?
The big challenge is the competition. For the first few years we had it our own way when we were on our own with pear, and then came Bulmers. They were owned by Heineken at that stage, so there was big money coming in. Then Magners came into pear, then Stella. And the same thing happened with fruit. We had it to ourselves, and then there were a lot more competitors there.
Competition is coming from brands with very deep pockets, so we need to be conscious that we don’t have bigger budgets when it comes to marketing and we’re not going to be cheaper than them when it comes to selling to retailers. Our marketing has got to be cleverer and our point of difference has got to be strong.
And it has to be right for the brand. If you suddenly decide to be this big mainstream product then people expect you to sell like a mainstream product, and that’s when you can devalue your brand. There are lots of very good examples out there, Peroni for example, where they’ve held the value of the brand but they haven’t had to play the volume game.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Well, you can’t help but get excited when you’re winning against the big boys. We are a minnow in comparison. It’s a great place to be and it’s lovely to be a pioneer in a category where people didn’t give you any chance of success and then to find yourself, eight years later, still succeeding and leading the market. That excites me.
We have a very entrepreneurial and fun company, and that’s the key thing not to forget – that it’s fun and our team enjoy it. They’ve got used to winning against the major players, and that’s a fantastic place to be.
When did you last sit back and have a bottle of Kopparberg?
I last sat back and had a bottle of Kopparberg last week. We have to get out and be in the trade. Unless you’re actually out there listening to the corner publican – never mind the big national groups – you’ll actually start losing touch pretty soon.
Last year, we won supplier of the year to Mitchells and Butlers, which is the largest managed bar group in the UK – so they have 1,800 pubs, and we beat every single supplier they have from food through to beer. And that’s all down to our relationships. Our product is fantastic, but it’s all down to the relationships that actually get it to where it is now.
What’s the best hangover cure?
Drink responsibly! I would never over-indulge. I drink in moderation at all times! But on the rare occasions in my youth when I may have over-indulged, growing up, the Irish equivalent of Walls ice cream made something called an Iceburger. It was thoroughly disgusting but it worked.
But that was many years ago – now it’s moderation!