A Trip to the Home of Kopparberg

PeterBronsman Kopparberg

Kopparberg Cider has been a great success in the UK and in fact across the world. So when an opportunity came up to visit the Swedish brewery with a few other trade journalists, I jumped at the chance to see the brewery and find out more about the man behind it, Peter Bronsman, who owns the Kopparberg with his brother Dan-Anders.
We were warned before we went that it was fair trip to the town of Kopparberg which is home to the 130-year old brewery, but well worth the visit. So we hopped off the plane at Stockholm and onto a mini-bus and headed out into the Swedish wilderness. To break the journey we stopped off at an off-sales (well we are trade journalists) but there was an educational reason behind the pit-stop – the Swedish government controls and runs all the countries off-sales, and there are just over 400 in the country. Called Systembolaget these stores sell all beverages stronger than 3.5% by volume with supermarkets selling lower ABV products. The store that we visited had a huge range of beers and spirits. It was much more varied than any UK store would have been and also stocked a lot of Scottish beers. Our hostess Ulrika explained that no price promotions were allowed, and that you couldn’t persuade the buyers to stock your brand. Someone had to recommend it, and then a decision was based on a blind tasting of your product. Prices were reasonable and according to Ulrika, Swedes like the arrangement. The visit to the Systembolaget was also interesting because for the first time we were made aware of the extent of Kobbarberg’s influence in Sweden, it doesn’t just brew the best selling cider, it also brews the best selling lager Sofiero. In fact Kopparbergs Bryggeri AB owns four breweries and brews seven craft beers too. Its product portfolio includes Kopparberg ciders; Sofiero, Zeunerts, Swedish Elk and Fagerhult beers; RC Cola, Zeunerts, KB, Kalle Spratt, Berra Bus and Kopparberg soft drinks; Dufvemala water; Frank’s energy drinks, as well as Frank’s vodka and Richard’s dry gin. Phew.
Three hours after leaving Stockholm we trundled up an avenue lined with trees, rolled up a hill over a bridge beside a lake and checked in at the Hotel Bangbro Herrgard, a former hunting lodge which is run by mine host Thomas. The drive to the destination included a look at the immense spruce forests of the region and the glorious half frozen lakes. In fact there was still snow on the ground in some places.
Kopparberg Brewery was re-established in 1994, when Peter Bronsman and his brother Dan-Anders Bronsman bought the old brewery in the town of Kopparberg. Over dinner Peter explained that he had made a life changing decision in 1993 (after a shark incident at sea). He had read a bit in a newspaper about how the Kopparberg Brewery was closing for good, and the impact that it would have on the town. Although the brewery had not been brewing for a number of years, it had been bought by a Swiss company which had planned to produce bottled water. But that plan never came to fruition and the bank had foreclosed. So Peter called the bank and said he was interested in buying the brewery. Says Peter, “I don’t think they took me seriously.” But come Christmas he had visited it  and bought it early in 1994, when he was only 28. He explained how he went back to his wife and told her he had bought a brewery and showed her a picture.
Kopparberg is now sold in more than 30 countries and is the World’s number one selling Pear cider. More than 300 people are employed by the company and it turns over in the region of £235m.
When I asked Peter what his proudest moment was he said “When I got the keys to the brewery from the bank.” But it has not been all plain sailing. The first few years were, by Peter’s admission, “difficult”. He explains, “The brewery was very run-down when we bought it and we didn’t manage to get our first brew done until October/November 1994. We were making good progress and then there was a fire. Half of the brewery burnt down. Some people thought we would not come back from that setback but we did, in fact it made us stronger. It took us a further six – seven months to start brewing again and cashflow was halted. But we did it.”
Today’s version of Kopparberg Brewery is a large modern facility with a lovely offices and a large warehouse.
Says Peter, “Our best decision has been to buy the breweries. We used to make own label brands but stopped this in 2004, and we did take a hit on turnover that year, but it was the right thing to do. It allowed us to concentrate on our own brands. The trade was not happy, and at the time we supplied Ikea. So we now supply Ikea with their own recipe and their cider sells in their stores globally. I own the recipe, they own the branding.”
At the same time 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.
The two today obviously have a great rapport, with Kopparbergs Bryggeri AB owning 51% of Cider of Sweden. Sales in the UK topped £120m in 2003 due to Davin’s team.
Says Peter, “I don’t think the cider market would have grown to the size it was without Kopparberg. No one has ever said the product is bad, everyone likes it. In fact when we launched Pear Cider everyone else said they wouldn’t be following suit… and then we launched mixed fruit and everyone copied it. I think we launched the right product at the right time. The other cider companies were a bit slower to catch on to the success of fruit. And that was good for me. Everyone else was doing apple and we did pear.”
His breweries brew 60% cider and 40% beer, with 95% of the liquid exported. But Peter explains, “We also do water and lemonade as well as cider and beer. Most Scandinavian breweries do this.”
But he hasn’t stopped at brewing. The company now owns five pubs too. Says Peter, “I bought my first pub two years ago. I think it is good to see the business from the other side, and I like to make my customers happy. They want choice and I don’t just sell our own brands in my pubs. I like to offer a good selection. Having pubs also means that if I want to launch something new I can test market it in my own venues. Just recently I have bought a bar in Stockholm, which is currently a licensed bowling alley with a restaurant. It covers 2,000sq ft and it is my next big project.”
As for launching some of the other Kopparbergs Bryggeri AB brands in the UK, he is not ruling it out. And certainly Hoga Kusten went down a storm with my fellow journalists. This beer – which is  “a bridge between ale and lager”, due to the fact it is fermented together, is certainly something different. Says Peter, “It’s not right for Kopparberg to do something standard. People expect us to do things a bit different.