Helena Waern

Latest bar trends: Low-ABV products and minimalistic serves

Bar Convent Berlin, the largest tradeshow in Europe for the bar and beverage industry, started on October 10-12th, 2022, and was attended by exhibitors and visitors worldwide. People from across the industry met to learn more about new trends in the industry and discover exciting new products. We had a chat with Annika Skohg, Brand Manager of Advocacy & Education for The Absolut Company, who shared her insights.

What stood out the most from the Berlin Bar Convent?

First and foremost, the vast space and the high number of people attending. More than 13,000 visited the Berlin Bar Convent. We met importers, bartenders, and industry people, who shared their brands’ stories and the latest bar and drink trends. My biggest takeaway was the exhibitors serving minimalistic cocktails and with innovative techniques.

What are the latest bar trends?

Sherry is the new passion fruit! We surprisingly saw a lot of it at the show as an essential ingredient to many drinks. We even saw tattoo artists offering sherry tattoos. Also, the approach of creating cocktails on the laboratory level is getting more and more at the forefront with the number of clarified drinks displayed in Bar Convent Berlin. Furthermore, many wanted to return to the brand’s roots and highlight their products and beverages in a very raw and minimalistic way. Beyond that, the ready-to-drink trend is still alive, the importance of proper glassware was underscored, and cocktails were served with sustainable materials.

Sherry is the new passion fruit! We surprisingly saw a lot of it at the show as an essential ingredient to many drinks. We even saw tattoo artists offering sherry tattoos.

Which type of spirit do you think will be more popular in the future?

Gin was frequently featured among the exhibitors during the event, which is not surprising. It’s a versatile spirit still in high demand that comes in different variants and flavouring.

How has the industry recovered from the pandemic?

During the pandemic, the bar and drinking industry was among the most wrecked. However, the recovery is going in the right direction. But my impression from Berlin Bar Convent is that many people that were working the stand were new to their job and occasionally lacked experienced brand and cocktail knowledge. The pandemic created a general staff shortage in the industry, where many lost their jobs and switched careers. The regrowth will take some time.

How will the bar- and beverage industry meet the upcoming consumer needs?

During the show, we saw a lot of low-ABV products and alcoholic-free options, confirming that as we have seen for a while, consumer today are very conscious about their alcohol intake. They care a lot more about the flavour and experience of the cocktail. Also, we know that Gen Z is a generation that cares a lot about what they consume and what the brands stand for. The quality of the product is not enough. They also want to understand where brands stand from a sustainable point of view, what we do for the environment and where your ingredients originate. Gen Z demands transparent storytelling about the brand’s operations which sets new requirements for the industry in the future.

Home is Where Our Story Begins – Absolut Home is awarded Europe’s Leading Vodka Distillery Tour 2022

Absolut Home received the internationally prized honor of Europe’s Leading Vodka Distillery Tour 2022 at the 29th annual World Travel Awards, acknowledging excellence in the travel industry worldwide. We had a chat with Frida Trieb, Sales & Marketing Manager, and Kenneth Hoffström, Site Manager, at Absolut Home, about what makes a great distillery tour, what this award means, and what’s next for the Absolut Brand Home.

Congratulations on being awarded Europe’s Leading Vodka Distillery Tour! In what ways will this award affect and benefit Absolut Home?

It’s a recognition that allows us to reach a much wider and international audience, and it offers us a more impactful narrative when it comes to communicating who we are, says Kenneth.

Tell us about the process of being nominated for the award.

We were nominated at the beginning of this summer but were so busy with our operations that we actually didn’t have the chance to properly spread the word throughout our network. So, it came as a big surprise to us that we won the award! Kenneth admits.

Our tours have a nice mix of fun interactive elements, information, and a genuine sense of community. Our guides also make the experience personal, engaging, and stimulating. I think it is the combination that makes our tours so wonderful and what sets them apart.

What is the key to a successful distillery tour? What makes the Absolut Home tour stand out?

Our tours have a nice mix of fun interactive elements, information, and a genuine sense of community. Our guides also make the experience personal, engaging, and stimulating. I think it is the combination that makes our tours so wonderful and what sets them apart, says Frida.

Can you share some visitor feedback from your award-winning tours?

Many visitors have told us that the tour has been both professional and exciting and that the guides have excellent knowledge and are able to answer all their questions. In addition, we notice great interactions between our guests and guides. They explore different rooms, have the space to interact, and create a unique time together. At the end of the tours, the visitors are invited to make their own cocktails or alcohol-free drinks, which is usually mentioned as something extra special in the reviews, Frida says.

What does the collaboration between the different Brand Home Destinations within the Pernod Ricard Group look like? In what ways do you share best practices, inspire, and learn from each other?

The entire Pernod Ricard Brand Home community meets regularly to share knowledge and inspiration, which offers a sense of belonging to us since we’re the only Brand Home located in Sweden. We support each other, help one another, and uphold standards and guidelines developed within the group. We share best practices, how to treat our employees respectfully, and agree on benefits such as employee discounts, etc., Kenneth points out.

Are you working with any other tourist attractions in the region? 

We collaborate with many hotels and tourist attractions in the region. For example, since we can’t offer accommodations, and the local hotels need to provide experiences to their guests, we are working in collaboration to make visits to Åhus more memorable. It’s a win-win situation, says Kenneth. We started talking to Wanås Castle before the pandemic. They have accommodations and art exhibitions, and we both attract visitors. It would be a great fit to join forces as two interesting destinations in the area.
We are also cooperating with Kristianstad Municipality amongst other local stakeholders to promote the region, Frida says. They encourage visits to Absolut Home, and it is our ambition to make sure everyone has a great time with us. 

Have you noticed a change in tourism patterns and/or behaviors post-pandemic? 

Yes, we have. The number of visitors is lower now than during the pandemic. The whole industry has slowed down after two years of strong summers. And there are several theories as to why. One reason could be that many Swedes had a desire to travel abroad after restrictions were lifted. Another reason might be that we are facing inflation in society overall. People are more careful with spending, and as a result, they might not travel as much, Kenneth suggests. 
Åhus is a summer town, but we are actively working on prolonging the season. During the Holidays, we have a special event where we open our outdoor bar and hold a Christmas fair. Our Christmas lunches and dinners are very popular and are often accompanied by a tour, Frida fills in. 

What’s on the horizon for Absolut Home?

We’re currently exploring more tours, events, and exhibitions. In addition, we are planning guest appearances by both bartenders and chefs. We’re also looking into collaborating with the Skåne Regional Museum, which will show the Fashion Cocktail exhibition during spring 2023, previously held at Spritmuseum in Stockholm. Internally we’re making efforts to communicate about our offers in a clear and straightforward way. There are a lot of exciting things happening this year, and our hope and aim are that they will be seen, heard, and received well! Frida says. 

The Limited-Edition Bottle of 2022 celebrates the Spirit of Togetherness

Ever since 2005, Absolut Vodka has released a yearly limited-edition designed vodka bottle. Now, the design for the 2022 edition is official. We interviewed Elin Furelid, Global Director Portfolio & Innovation at The Absolut Company, on this year’s limited-edition bottle, which celebrates the Spirit of Togetherness, and talked about the design, inspiration, and work behind it.

What’s the inspiration behind the limited-edition bottle for 2022? Who designed it?

The inspiration draws from Absolut’s core belief of mixing things up with the goal of creating better outcomes. This bottle is specifically designed in collaboration with our design agency, Brand Union Stockholm, and our glassworks partner Ardagh Glass located in the southern part of Sweden. We have worked on many projects with Brand Union Stockholm, from our most recent redesign to previous designs and several exciting limited-edition bottles like this one. The campaign’s visual identity – with its color play on the pattern – was, in fact, developed by our in-house studio, The Mix Stockholm.

The campaign celebrates the Spirit of Togetherness. How is this spirit reflected in the bottle?

Celebrating the Spirit of Togetherness is about how things turn out better when we look past our differences and are able to meet and connect with each other. This concept inspires the actual design of the bottle, symbolized through a woven pattern that is translated onto the surface of the glass. The notion that several intertwined threads are stronger than one individual string shows that we form a stronger bond when we come together and create together. This can also be linked to when the bottle is launched, during the Holiday season, when we traditionally spend time with friends and family, strengthening the bond of togetherness.

Celebrating the Spirit of Togetherness is about how things turn out better when we look past our differences and are able to meet and connect with each other.

The Absolut Company has a longstanding tradition of promoting togetherness and mixing people and perspectives. Tell us how you’ve worked with these values when creating this bottle.

Besides combining and mixing different values, and people to achieve better outcomes, synergy and true cooperation between everyone involved have been crucial to this project. We work closely and value our partners and could never realize a design like this without them and their expertise. The entire collaboration behind this product is part of the concept of togetherness, and that is very important to highlight.

Elin Furelid. Photo: Joakim Rolandsson.

In what way was sustainability factored into this project?

We are constantly working with sustainability, and similarly to the rest of our bottles, the limited-edition bottle for 2022 features 53% recycled glass, which is exceptionally high for a clear glass bottle. For us, sustainability is a deep-rooted and constant priority.

Was there anything that stood out or surprised you while working on this project?

The limited-edition designed bottles are our longest-running campaign, recurring since 2005. Working on this project is always fun and enriching. However, this bottle seemed extra special. It turned out incredibly sophisticated, detailed, and transparent. Even though we used a soft material as an inspiration, we’ve been able to create a clear, smooth, and detailed tactile effect on the solid glass surface. We’ve made crystal-looking bottles before, but this one stands out. I think it’s absolutely stunning.

Besides the great look and feel, the teamwork has been very special to us from a customer’s point of view. We’re very much involved in the entire design process and work closely with our suppliers as partners, which is essential for the end result.

We are constantly working with sustainability, and similarly to the rest of our bottles, the limited-edition bottle for 2022 features 53% recycled glass

How long does it take to develop the bottle?

We begin planning and preparing about 1.5 to 2 years before the launch. Working with a glass structure requires a battery of tests, for example, on the glass’s durability and quality. We are creating an artisanal product, even if it is on a larger scale. It’s a kind of industrialized glass art that requires a lot of time and effort to perfect. Glass art is part of the Swedish design heritage and something we are very proud to be a part of.

When will the limited-edition bottle launch, and how would you like it to be received?

The bottle is launching on October 1, the same time as previous years, and it will be available in over 80 markets! It is our most extensive and longest-running global campaign. We hope that our consumers find the bottle as fantastic as we do and that they can feel all the work and love that has been put into it.

An Eye on the Future – with Jakob Sundin

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the drinks community was finally able to return to New Orleans for a 20-year anniversary celebration of the industry’s leading conference Tales of the Cocktail®. We had a chat with Jakob Sundin, On Trade Specialist at Purfict and co-founder of The Bartenders’ Choice Awards, about how the industry is doing and the biggest cocktail trends at the moment.

You have recently returned from Tales of the Cocktail. What are the five biggest global cocktail trends right now?

Something that’s become prevalent in recent years is drinks being presented in a minimalistic, stylistic way, often with thin and delicate glassware. There’s hardly any garnish – just a large ice cube and perhaps a stroke of paint on the side of the glass. What’s also interesting is that these drinks all look relatively similar, but they certainly don’t taste the same.

The second trend is technique. The approach of creating drinks on a molecular, laboratory level started with just a handful of bars globally that were incorporating such techniques. Nowadays, there’s almost a bar in every major city that has adapted this approach. Bars often use sophisticated methods to clarify and distill ingredients with a rotovap distiller. There’s a lot of fermentation, centrifugation, clarification, and forced carbonation used to create sophisticated artisan cocktails inspired by ready-to-drink beverages.

Whether it’s gin, botanical rum, aquavit, or flavored vodkas, one thing is for sure; there is an evolution in the way spirits are made and flavored.

Then there’s locality. For example, in countries like Sweden, where citrus fruits don’t grow naturally, bars have started to use substitutes like malic acid instead of imported citrus. Facit in Umeå, with Emil Åreng, is the world’s first bar to exclusively use Swedish ingredients and produce. The industry is also working closer to producers. Röda Huset in Stockholm works with their ice supplier, who helps them freeze individual pieces of vårbrodd (sweet vernal grass) for their minimalistic-looking drink kolagräs (cola grass). 

Takeovers, or guest appearances, are another strong trend. Pretty much all the bars on the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars visit each other, arrange pop-ups and takeovers for publicity, and associate with premium spirits brands for promotion and vice versa. 

Another trend is botanical spirits and brands finding innovative ways to incorporate unique ingredients into their spirits. With a rotovap, you can work at a much lower temperature to extract unique flavors that are lost in traditional distillation. Creative people and innovation have helped push the industry forward. Whether it’s gin, botanical rum, aquavit, or flavored vodkas, one thing is for sure; there is an evolution in the way spirits are made and flavored.

What is your takeaway from Tales of the Cocktail? 

It was such a pleasure to connect with so many familiar faces. The pandemic has hit our industry hard, so it was wonderful seeing parts of the industry come together again and being able to travel. Sadly, many iconic bars closed their doors in the past couple of years due to the pandemic. But we had an opportunity to celebrate some of them during the conference, at an event hosted by Pernod Ricard USA.

The conference celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. How is the drinks industry doing?

We’ve been through some extremely challenging times and have made it out on the other side. This is proof that our industry is made up of dedicated people who won’t give up. More initiatives for positive change are being pushed, moving the industry in the right direction, both in terms of evolving the craft and creating a respectful environment. And now that we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and since the industry is built by the most passionate and resilient people – who will never stop believing in what we love the most – I’m confident the industry will emerge in a better place than before.

Innovative by nature

Betting on the diverse and serene environment of the far north, a surprising career path led to the start of the northernmost distillery in Sweden. We had a chat with Dennis Bejedal, founder and CEO of Norrbottens Destilleri, about finding inspiration off the beaten path and his journey in launching a spirits company out of Norrbotten.

Why did you start Norrbottens Destilleri?

I’ve always wanted to start my own company, and have spent years trying to figure out how to work with taste and flavor in a creative way. A trip from Stockholm to Norrbotten changed everything for me. So much so that I have been living in Norrbotten for eight years now.

You are the northernmost distillery in Sweden. How come you decided to establish your business in Norrbotten?

Traveling the world for several years during my previous career as a professional poker player allowed me to experience many different places around the globe. However, it was after visiting a friend here in Norrbotten that I realized what this region has to offer in terms of its nature and climate. That’s when it all came together, and the journey to encapsulate that in a bottle of spirits began.

Launching a startup out of Norrbotten is exciting. You work incredibly hard – like everyone who starts a business – but at the end of the day, your commute home is always 12 minutes, and you can park at a house by the sea and just drop your shoulders. This is very important to me as an overachiever.

Being new to our industry, what are your reflections? The pros and cons? What are the biggest challenges of starting a spirits company in Sweden today?

An advantage of being new in this industry is that it allows us to be innovative. We are part of such a creative world, and there’s really no limit to what you can distill today. A disadvantage is, of course, the pandemic, making it difficult to get our brand out there. Building distribution out of Norrbotten is already a challenge since we are so far away from everything. But we are noticing a lot of progress. After two years of hard work and tons of meetings – trying to figure out how to operate under conditions where everything is on pause – we hope things will finally start to take off. We have prepared ourselves to make them happen now.

As a professional poker player, your background is slightly different. Is there anything from the poker world you can draw from in your new career?

Some would argue that it takes a real gambler to start a distillery way up in northern Sweden, in the small village of Töre. But, after 13 years as a professional poker player, I’ve learned to recognize opportunities, and I dare to stick with and trust my gut feeling. Another thing that I carry with me is the importance of always wanting to develop, which is super important when you’re playing poker and want to stay on top of your game. I try to live by that and wish to instill that mindset in the people who work here at Norrbottens Destilleri.

Launching a startup out of Norrbotten is exciting. You work incredibly hard – like everyone who starts a business – but at the end of the day, your commute home is always 12 minutes, and you can park at a house by the sea and just drop your shoulders.

What inspires you and why?

I get inspired by flavors and aromas from places locally and worldwide. Finding a unique symbiosis of different botanicals in a balanced product is what makes my work a lot of fun!

We’re seeing many premium distilleries coming out of the Nordics. What’s essential to stand out from the crowd?

The Nordic distilleries hold such a high standard when it comes to white spirits. For me, sticking to our innovative and creative style of distilling spirits is essential. I have never tried to create a product similar to another one already on the market. Instead, I always start with a concept of the flavor in my mind, and from that, I build the recipe in my head. I love highlighting different botanicals from our unique landscapes, creating a fusion of flavors from various parts of the world and an unexpected taste experience.

Speaking of fusion. Your slogan is “A fusion of extremes”. Can you tell us more about how you incorporate that into your brand and products?

“A fusion of extremes” runs through multiple aspects of our brand. It describes the environment where we operate; Norrbotten is an extreme place with an extreme climate. However, we are also doing a fusion of extreme botanicals by letting ingredients from different parts of the world intertwine with our local garden. The concept is constantly evolving together with our brand.

Do you have a favorite fusion?

That’s really hard to say. It’s like choosing a favorite child. I would say that I am most proud of our Forest Dry Gin. It encapsulates the Swedish forest in a bottle, accompanied by cloves from the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean. It’s a super cool product, and since Sweden is covered by 70% forest, it is representative of Sweden.

Absolut received Business Sweden’s Food Export Award in 2019 and decided to pay it forward to you and Stockholms Bränneri. Can you tell us what this support means for you going forward?

It was an honor that Absolut and Business Sweden decided to bring us to the Bar Convent Brooklyn in New York. We had a great couple of days. Hopefully, this will help us enter more markets in the future, and on top of that, we made some great connections exploring the convention.

Tips for others who want to make the same journey?

My best advice in 2022 is to dare to do something unique that makes you stand apart, something that’s not already out there. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in a massive market of competing brands. So, definitely make sure you stand out from the competition and be prepared to dedicate yourself to your craft – because it does take a lot of time.

What’s next for Norrbottens Destilleri?

We are currently caught up in a creative phase at Norrbottens Destilleri! Many things will happen by the end of the year, and we can’t wait to show you!

How to make it big in Latin America

To keep a close watch on half a continent is quite a challenge. But for Tatiana Künsch, Marketing Activation Manager LatAm at The Absolut Company, it’s home turf. We had a chat with her on what makes the brand tic for her consumers – all the way from the banks of the Rio Grande in the north down to shores of Patagonia in the south.

How’s Absolut doing in Latin America?

I’d say it’s doing great as a whole. However, Latin America is a very big and diverse cluster of markets where Brazil only is as large as the whole of EU, so it’s huge. And it’s a very Absolut friendly market where the brand is seen as a premium and cool on the same level as Apple.

Which markets are you responsible for?

All markets in South and Latin America – from Mexico to Uruguay. But my main markets are Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and the Caribbean. Absolut’s image is very similar in all markets. We’re perceived as very premium and progressive and just about every big city in my market is big on Absolut, which kind of makes my job easier.

Are there any big differences?

For sure. In Mexico, they have an affinity for tequila that differs quite a lot from most other markets. Argentina is more European – almost like they were a part of Italy. They drink wine and aperitif. In Brazil, where I’m based, most people drink cachaça, which in general is considered a low tier spirit – even though there are some premium brands. Otherwise, Brazilians love to drink whisky. We actually consume more whisky/capita than the Scotts! But vodka in general and Absolut in particular is very popular in all markets.

Why’s the brand so successful in your part of the world?

I think it’s a combination of product quality, the instant brand recognition due to the iconic bottle, the legacy of the brand and the fact that it is seen as very innovative. Our marketing initiatives are usually very impactful here when we use the global campaigns but tweak them to suit our consumers. We localize assets and use our specific traits. Bruna Marquezine is our main talent here in Brazil. She’s very influential and relevant to Gen Z. All her flights perform very well. I think this approach, to be a global brand and to always have a local approach to our activations, is what makes the magic. 

We always need to generate insights on consumer behaviors and other things and there are some very noticeable differences between the markets

What’s most challenging with your job?

Most complicated is to work in different time zones. With HQs in Sweden, I’ve only small four-hour window to make contact. It’s great to be able to work independently, but it’s also a bit tricky at times. It’s also challenging to be responsible for such a vast and diverse market. We always need to generate insights on consumer behaviors and other things and there are some very noticeable differences between the markets. So, it’s hard work to stay on top of everything that happens when you’ve got so much ground to cover. 

Getting investments in the green

Being a sustainable company requires both effort and stamina. But often, a lack of resources and an overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to begin can impose obstacles. That’s where Ethos and Jonathan Milläng, Head of Sustainable Finance, can help. We had a chat with him on how to get sustainability work off the ground and on the agenda.

What kind of sustainability work does Ethos perform?

Basically, we identify where in the value chain a company’s greatest impact is. Today, Ethos provides services within five different areas: Sustainable Business Development, Human Rights & Anti-corruption, Sustainable Finance, Environmental Affairs, and Sustainability Reporting. Our clients often start by analyzing how they can work with sustainability issues, both to reduce their negative impact and maximize the positive – what is called a materiality analysis. Many companies unfortunately focus on the wrong things – for example, IT should not invest energy in ensuring that employees drive electric cars, but rather make sure that all the energy used to store info in the cloud or on company servers comes from a renewable source.

What types of companies ask Ethos for help?

Ethos has customers from all walks of life and we are contacted by companies from very different sectors and industries. Regardless of where the customer comes from, we pretty much have the same MO; step 1 is a risk and impact analysis in which we look at what may be, or already is, critical for the business or fund and step 2 is establishing an action plan for how to maximize/minimize positive/negative impact within the areas of environment and climate change, labor rights, human rights, and anti-corruption as well as the governance of all of these areas based on the nature of the business or assets under management.

What is the most common inquiry for you?

Personally, I’m mostly asked to help our financial clients reach sustainability targets and compliance with new regulations. There are a lot of incoming new legal requirements from the EU on how companies should establish and utilize their influence. The idea is to get away from diluted sustainability reports where you just sort of write that you have a charity initiative, or that you only serve vegetarian food in the mess hall. The EU wants to ensure that companies work on their core business and improve sustainability where it truly matters.

You can’t just simply throw money at tech start-ups and hope they’ll solve everything

Is sustainability work difficult?

Both yes and no. It becomes easier the more people learn about the issues and get used to working with them in the right way. I think it was harder some years ago when people didn’t think it was as financially material. On the other hand, there’s a lot still to be done on issues concerning social sustainability and human rights. This is still uncharted territory and sadly you’re likely to find slavery and/or child labor in almost every complex value chain you scrutinize. This is due to several reason; the fact that it’s not legally required to work with human rights issues in your full value chain and the fact that neither investors nor customers are clear about the actual requirements and regulations in all markets. This uncertainty makes it difficult to accept and carry the costs of working full-on with human rights issues. But that does by no means mean that there aren’t companies that has this it on their agenda. There are several good examples in every sector and the best one’s are those who’ve already started to report on these specific issues – they’ve identified the problems and are working to solve them. In the last couple of years, we’ve noticed an increase in how much people actually consider sustainability issues from a business perspective. The sustainability strategy must be in line with the business strategy – and not be considered as something you do half-heartedly or as a side business to earn a little goodwill. If you do not understand how you are affected by climate risks, you are more exposed. But if you acknowledge this and take active decisions to be sustainable, you’ll not only do good for the planet but also make a better investment case because you are better prepared than the competition.

What is a green investment?

There is an EU framework, called the EU Taxonomy, which is a classification for green investments. It works in the same way as the Linnaeus’ system for plants and animals. There are several thresholds ​​and requirements that must be met, based on which sector you are active in. The sectors that are in the biggest need of adjustment are pinpointed and the demands on them are increased. When it comes to green funds, for example, they have a large predominance of companies with a low climate impact. But that doesn’t mean that you – as an investor – have an actual impact on sustainability related issues. If you want to really make your money count, it might be better to invest in where the investment will make a bigger difference. This is what the legislators and legislation want to help explain. Because it should be easy to understand where your investment can make the biggest and greenest difference.

Quarterly capitalism is often spoken of as a contrast to more long-term investments. What kind of implications does a transition to a greener investment strategy have, both short- and long-term?

The pandemic and the war in Ukraine may have had the implication that investors are now starting to look at other risks and adapt a more long-term perspective. Being more risk-averse. The EU taxonomy is mostly focused on infrastructure companies – they are essential for society to function, but they also need to change. And you must keep an eye on that when you invest – you can’t just simply throw money at tech start-ups and hope they’ll solve everything. Investments in companies that are considered a bit less exciting are also needed. The need for houses and roads won’t stop, but we need to find less environmentally harmful ways to get there.

Here’s to the Family You Choose

Absolut Vodka has a long-standing history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. We had a chat with Maxime Henain, the Campaign Lead, about the upcoming Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign. Highlighting the importance of a chosen family and safe spaces, we learn how Absolut is driving consumer-centricity and how the brand will continue to be at the forefront as an advocate and ally to the community.

What’s the story behind the concept for the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign?

The concept took inspiration from a consumer insight deeply rooted in the lives of our LGBTQIA+1 consumers. After conducting some consumer research, which confirmed that many people from the LGBTQIA+ community still experience rejection from their biological families, we were inspired to create a campaign about the concept of chosen family. Even though things are getting better––and I want to emphasize that they gradually are––our research showed that one in two from the LGBTQIA+ community experience rejection in some way. This is a really sad number. 
After dialoguing with some charities we have been partnering with for years, we confirmed our belief that creating and safeguarding safe spaces is key for the community. These may be physical or mental safe spaces, such as a support system, if you will. When we speak about physical spaces, we typically refer to venues, bars, and clubs where you can meet your chosen family. Unfortunately, these places are disappearing. Absolut Vodka is a social brand by nature. We’ve been mixing people up for years, and we enjoy this catalyst role, bringing people from all walks of life together to meet over our drinks. This is also how we’ve been present in the community for more than 40 years now, by being present in those safe spaces. This is how we decided to hero the chosen families formed within the community, and to hero the power of these.

1 LGBTQIA+ is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.

The campaign says, “Here’s to the family you choose!”. You touched on this, but could you describe the importance of a chosen family a bit more?

Having a family-like support system in the community is crucial. We wanted to highlight these chosen families in our campaign and emphasize their importance as a support system, which is not only relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community. Most people can probably relate to having a chosen family of friends you feel connected to in this way; these people whom you have such a special bond with.
We have had three words as our guiding principle from the beginning: power, not pity. Over the past few years, the advertising featuring the LGBTQIA+ community has often focused on the struggles. As a brand, we are still a passionate advocate for fighting against any forms of discrimination together with our partners through lots of local actions, not shying away from the struggles. But this time around, we wanted to represent acceptance and love in a different way.

What is the key to creating a relevant campaign on this? 

There are two things at play here. First, we made sure to work with partners from the LGBTQIA+ community. From the teams, the PR agency, the cultural agency, the photographer, and the director to all the talents, almost all are from the community. This enabled us to have very interesting discussions from the conceptualization of the project and was key for me to make the campaign relevant and authentic. The second is that our consumer feedback and communications with charities confirmed my and the creative team’s gut feeling for the project––this is crucial to ensure that the work resonates with consumers; otherwise, there is no need to proceed.

As a brand, we are still a passionate advocate for fighting against any forms of discrimination together with our partners through lots of local actions, not shying away from the struggles

What’s been most challenging working with this project?

I expected the education within the organization to be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. The aim for us was to show a broader representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in the campaign, showing the rich spectrum of people the community is made of. That diversity and richness is such a strength. This is also where I personally realized how strong the LGBTQIA+ culture is and how it is gradually spilling over into the mainstream, which is fascinating to witness. 
Absolut will also take this further in the years to come in future campaigns, and we have decided to create an internal LGBTQIA+ network for our employees. We’re in the process of putting it all together, and we are quite excited about it. Basically, the purpose is to educate and create a safe space for the employees to connect, chat, and make sure that we can be as inclusive as possible as an employer.

Maxime Henain

Absolut has a long history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. How does this historical significance come into play in the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign?

We have been supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community for a long time, it is very much part of our DNA. We have always believed that everyone should be able to love whom they choose. Back then, in the early days, we bought ad placements in LGBTQIA+ magazines when no one else dared to. We have been working with artists from the community for a long time––through art collaborations with Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Tom Ford, for instance––which gave them a platform and supported the fantastic work they put together. We have also been partnering with charities from GLAAD to Stonewall. We are a proud partner of the Gilbert Baker Foundation, which is very dear to us. We have been heroing his legacy on our Rainbow Limited Edition bottles for some years now.
We have been, and are, part of this culture and are incredibly proud of contributing to it. Inevitably, after working with the community for a while and sharing some values, we feel that we are constantly getting to know each other, and I must say that some of our markets have very close ties to some charities. Working hand in hand with our partners allows us not to feel shy in this space. We’ve all seen blatant instances of rainbow-washing in the past few years. Advocacy within the community is built over time, so we are proud of pushing that historical legacy, especially as the community is prompt to call out pink-washing––and rightly so!

How does Absolut’s work with and for the queer community differ from other leading companies in the industry?

We, at Absolut Vodka, have always been a brand for, not against anything. I will be among the first to applaud and very much support the good work done by other companies, including competitors. I think some brands are finding interesting angles and support the LGBTQIA+ cause in their way, and we support these––this cannot be a case of us vs. them. The fight for more inclusivity and acceptance needs all the allies it can get! But most important of all, the support needs to be authentic and consistent over time. 
We favor a grassroots and local approach by partnering with local charities in our markets to help us push our acceptance message, as we have done for 40+ years. At the end of the day, it helps us keep our feet on the ground by being as relevant as possible to what our consumers are experiencing, and it helps us keep our finger on the pulse. This may not be the magic recipe, but this is how Absolut does it.

What is Absolut’s role in the LGBTQIA+ community today? How can you continue to be a strong supporter in years to come? 

We are supporters of foundations like the Gilbert Baker Foundation, GLAAD in the US, the Stonewall Foundation in the UK, and others in markets like Australia or Spain. We also do grassroots work by supporting local LGBTQIA+ charities. This is something that we will continue to do. The second thing is regarding our role as a social brand by essence. We are here to create social and convivial moments by being present in venues and during Pride celebrations and events. But we are also doing a lot of work outside of Pride and want to make sure that we create these great experiences for the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year as well––that’s a sort of raison d’etre, that’s what we do, and that’s what we’re here for.

As I’ve said, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years; however, some of our rights are still in danger

We will also continue to push the envelope in the years to come through different activations like the Out & Open campaign in the US, which is fighting against the closing down of physical safe spaces and raising awareness on the issue with the help of Bowen Yang. Recently, the media has shown that power, not pity for the community, is also a complementary way to portray the community. The Netflix show Heartstopper, which got incredible reviews, is the first LGBTQIA+ show that portrays love, romance, and identity in a warmer and light-hearted way. This feels altogether soothing.

As I’ve said, we’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years; however, some of our rights are still in danger. I will always believe there’s more to be done. And Absolut will always be at the forefront. 

Where and when will the campaign run?

It began running in Australia during the summer and the Australian Mardi Gras in February and March. We are really happy with how our consumers responded there. We’re now approaching the pride season of the Northern Hemisphere, starting in June and ending in August. The campaign will run in some European markets, the global travel and retail business, and with some variations in the US and Canada. In the US, for instance, we are going deeper into safe spaces, tackling the issue of disappearing physical spaces. I am really excited to see the consumer’s response.

What is your goal for the Absolut Pride 2022 Campaign? How would you like it to be received?

It is twofold. First, I want our LGBTQIA+ consumer to look at the campaign and feel like they can relate. We all have chosen families, and they are essential––whether you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or not. No matter the hardship of coming out, this is your chosen family, they are your support system, and they have your back.
The second thing pertains to the wider public, and this is to recognize the campaign’s sentiment. We didn’t want to create an LGBTQIA+ campaign that non-LGBTQIA+ consumers wouldn’t understand and vice versa. This is where we believe that, although experienced differently, the insight of Chosen Family proves to be broad and universal. Indeed, my goal was to show that even though you’re not from the community, a chosen family is something many of us can relate to––this is something most of us all have in common, and Absolut, as a brand, always wants to highlight what brings us closer. I believe campaigns highlighting this positive side do contribute to further acceptance and close the infamous us vs. them gap.

My goal was to show that even though you’re not from the community, a chosen family is something many of us can relate to

Can you please share a personal, cherished, chosen family moment with us?

You know those family celebrations that are very traditional, like Christmas and Easter? I remember moments when I was living abroad and couldn’t celebrate with family, moments when my chosen family was extremely important and felt just as cherished. These moments are about the love that is shared around the table. It’s usually during a meal. (Maybe because I’m French, but it’s usually a meal!) You get together with friends, and you have that moment together, and it feels like family––it is family––and at that specific moment, that mix of people simply feels like home. I am convinced we can all relate to that.

Here to the Rscue

Every year, incredible amounts of food, fruit and vegetables are thrown away for no reason. And that’s not the way to go about it. At least not if you ask Truls Christenson, CEO of Rscued, who’s on a mission to turn leftovers into must-haves. We had a chat with him about how to best make juice from all the fruits and vegetables that no one else wants.

Why did you start Rscued?

Helsingborg is Sweden’s largest port for fruit and vegetables. Almost everything that is imported to Sweden lands here, and there are huge warehouses scattered around the city that house all the produce that’s about to be distributed across the country. Of course, this also means that there will be a lot of waste here – some thirty percent of all fruit grown gets thrown away – and that’s why we started Rscued. We discovered that there was nothing wrong with most of everything that was discarded. On the contrary, it was actually worth saving and the easiest way to do so was to make juice.

How do you get hold of all the fruit?

As I mentioned, we live in the city that has Sweden’s largest fruit and vegetable port. This means that there are lots of warehouses, wholesalers and shops that can supply us with discarded produce. But we also receive deliveries from the rest of Sweden, and regularly drive to pick up food waste from Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. In 2021, we took care of 439 tones of fruit and vegetables. It takes a lot of logistics to make everything work smoothly and an even greater amount of creativity to quickly produce high-quality products. Our challenge is that we don’t know what will get delivered each day – the range varies depending on season, variety and maturity – so we need to stay flexible around what products we produce; juices, shots, smoothies, ice cream, chips and hummus are just a few examples of what we have launched so far. As Rscued has grown, it has also become much easier for us to get our hands on fruit and vegetables. Today we are established, we have our own factory and we’re used to receiving and handling large quantities of unknown produce on short notice.

Some years ago, we were asked if we could rescue 40 tons of watermelons, which is quite bulky

What’s the strangest delivery you’ve received?

Over the years, we have received a lot of requests that we haven’t been able to accommodate. Some years ago, we were asked if we could rescue 40 tons of watermelons, which is quite bulky. We declined the entire delivery but accepted to receive two tons. The problem with watermelon is that it can’t be pasteurized. The taste completely changes for the worse when heated up – it becomes a bland and unpleasant and is not suited to make juice from. We also regularly receive large deliveries of bananas which can also be tricky to handle. Bananas are sensitive and the must be sorted and peeled by hand. This week, we’ve just received 6 tons, so there will probably be a bit of late-night peel work to get the job done before they are too ripe. Otherwise, the strangest delivery is probably the 18 tons of pineapple we got from a drug bust in Rotterdam. We had no idea what to do with them, so we had to google “how to make pineapple juice” and then start cooking as fast as we could. In the end, we actually managed to salvage 14 of the 18 tons received. There were 25,000 bottles of pineapple juice ready for the store shelves in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Which Rscued is your favorite so far?

Wow, that’s hard to say. We’ve made so many different varieties over the years. But if I must choose one, I’d opt for the blood orange and Sichuan pepper shot that we just launched. I think it turned out unexpectedly well with a slightly surprising “poppy” effect from the pepper.

And which one are you the least happy with?

We once tried our luck with tea. It was a hipster-banja tea that was a fusion with our juice. Didn’t work at all – neither in taste nor sales.

What is the next step in the development?

Last year, we saved just over 400 tons of fruit and vegetables, but there is incredible potential to save more of the food that gets thrown away, not only fruit and vegetables. Just take all the bread that goes in the trash every year. There’s definitely something to be done there. It’s also no secret that we’re looking to start new ventures outside of Sweden as well. Food is thrown away to the same extent everywhere in the world and we want to help change that.

Welcome to Malibu

Malibu has always been all about summers. But getting into a vacation groove shouldn’t be restricted to 3 short summer months every year. We had a chat with Filip Kiisk, Head of Brand Creative at The Absolut Company, on how Malibus’ new big idea “Do Whatever Tastes Good” will help bring relevance to the brand – regardless of the season.

What can you tell us about Malibu’s new big idea “Do Whatever Tastes Good”?

“Do Whatever Tastes Good” aims to reframe the brand from being associated with summer as a season to summer as a mindset – we want people to be able to enjoy a tasty Piña Colada regardless of the season and connect our consumers to their summer mindset all year round. It’s a clear and clever concept, and a perfect next step for Malibu.

How will Malibu work with this outside of the summer months?

The beauty of owning and celebrating the summer mindset rather than the season of summer is that you can experience it any time of the year. As a brand, this gives us permission to show up all year round and gives our consumers permission to enjoy Malibu all year round. In our first campaign “Welcome to Malibu”, Malibu is a place where everyone is at ease enjoying what they like, when they like. It’s fun and lighthearted and showcases a multitude of drinking occasions – some less traditional than others!

Malibu is a place where everyone is at ease enjoying what they like, when they like

How will the campaign be launched?

“Welcome to Malibu” is the first part of bringing our “Do Whatever Tastes Good” platform to life. The campaign will live for at least 2 years. During that time, we’ll continue to activate the platform, with culturally resonant work more closely focused on cocktails and product.

The campaign will live globally and be activated in local markets across all media so look out for some exciting out of home and social activity too. We are starting in the US market on April 25th and other key markets will follow in the beginning of summer.

As the campaign evolves over the coming months, ideas will have strong social media foundations and earned media ambitions. We want to get people to engage with what we do. Our lead agency, Wieden+Kennedy, is a fantastic partner for these types of campaigns. They have their finger on the pulse of culture and keep a close eye on our audiences tastes and behaviors which will ensure that we stay relevant.

What was most challenging about the production?

This production has been one of the most challenging and rewarding ones I’ve ever been part of. We had the privilege of working with the creative genius Dave Meyers – a music video director from LA who has worked with every big artist out there and he creates just the kind of culturally relevant aesthetic we love. Dave’s work was referenced throughout the development phase of the project and we loved his style. So, when we got him on board the project, it felt like hitting the jackpot. Everything just clicked! The actual filming was done in Mexico City, and we of course worked within strict covid protocols, with success. We filmed for five consecutive days with a huge crew across a variety of locations and a studio. There’s a lot of dancing in almost every scene, so coordination was really important. Thankfully we had the insanely talented choreographer Hi-Hat and rehearsed everything for weeks before so once the camera rolled, it all worked like a charm. People say never work with animals – but that’s because they’ve never worked with a coconut horse!