Thord Hedengren

Taking the driver’s seat in European food export

Sweden has the EU presidency until the 30th of June, which means that the Nordic country will lead and coordinates the work of the Council of Ministers during that time. One of the topics on the agenda is the Union’s strategy and regulations regarding food export. We chatted with Jimmy Sandell, Head of Communications and Business Policy at the Swedish Food Federation, to discuss the EU presidency, the challenges for Swedish food export, and which products that have a bright future.

What questions will the Swedish Food Federation pursue the most now that your country has the EU presidency until the end of June?

– We want to improve the competitiveness of European companies and the ability to supply food within the EU by creating better conditions so that we get more viable and robust businesses. Hopefully, the EU’s current policy reforms will be implemented in a way that is beneficial for many companies. Also, we would like to urge for more free movement in the internal market and increased free trade. The last few years have shown that we need more trade channels to stand firm in crises.

Which food-related topics create the most engagement and debate in the EU?

– Creating a robust and sustainable food system is an overall theme that has dominated the EU debate in recent years. A large part of the sustainability agenda has focused on food labeling. It includes discussions on how big an impact labeling generally has on consumers’ choices in the grocery store and how to design regulations for more information on food packaging. For example, how a future front-of-pack nutrition label should look like has proved to be a divisive issue among EU Member States.

Do you see any challenges with current EU regulations?

– There are many challenges that need to be addressed. For example, the regulation of health claims on food is pretty concerning. The Union’s strict rules make it difficult for companies to communicate public health. The aim to avoid inappropriate and misleading marketing is well-intended, but it has been taken way too far. For example, you can only mention that you have reduced the amount of sugar or salt in a product if you cut the levels by impossibly large amounts.

What are the biggest challenges when it comes to strengthening Swedish food exports?

– We, as a nation, do not see ourselves as food exporters, which is a problem in itself. There is a massive difference in the self-image compared to other small but successful food-exporting countries such as Ireland, Denmark, and Norway. Swedish food and drink production and exports should be much more prominent on our agenda, which our government finally has agreed on and they are now re-examining the national food strategy. Still, the future for Swedish food export looks very bright, as we are on our way to reaching our goal of 100 billion SEK in export value for 2025. The Swedish food sector has enormous potential, and we have all the right conditions to become a global leader in producing sustainable food.

the future for Swedish food export looks very bright, as we are on our way to reaching our goal of 100 billion SEK in export value for 2025

Which industries have a positive export market right now and which are having a tough time?

– The Chief Economist at Swedish Food Federation usually says that everything you drink has a future. We believe that all beverage products with high process value are on the rise and have a lot of export potential. However, the premium segment is in decline in favor of the current economic state and the demand for low prices. 

Which foods may become more attractive to import from, for example, Sweden in the future?

– Sweden is a world leader in oats and is currently investing heavily in the category at the moment. It’s a product that, historically, has had its added value end up outside of Sweden but is about to change, which we are very optimistic about.

How The Absolut Company can contribute to Sweden as a food and drinks destination

The EU presidency belongs to Sweden until the middle of the summer this year, which is a big opportunity for Swedish companies to advocate export promotion. We talked with Paula Eriksson, VP Corporate Affairs & Communications at The Absolut Company, on how Absolut can drive Swedish beverage export forward and help establish Sweden as an international destination for food and drinks.

How is it that Absolut Vodka has become Sweden’s largest food exporter?

– We launched a Swedish quality product that redefined the vodka category at its time and built a strong brand with Absolut. Our product is perfect for mixing and has the same quality everywhere worldwide, thanks to coming from one source, ie, Åhus in Sweden. We also have a long-term approach to sustainability. We minimize our carbon dioxide emissions and aim to have a carbon-neutral product by 2030. Adding to that, one could also argue that the brand exports typical Swedish values, spreading our inclusive and optimistic mindset to people worldwide. For example, our campaign, Born to Mix, highlights our mission to inspire people of all backgrounds to mix together.

What issue do you at The Absolut Company want to highlight the most now that Sweden has the presidency of the EU?

– Overall, the Swedish presidency has a similar approach as ours to improving the conditions for business in the EU. The Absolut Company is all for the green transition, including initiatives and legislative changes that aim to reduce emissions. When introducing new legislation on the packaging, it’s also important to keep solutions that work, for example, the Swedish recycling system. We also welcome standard labeling solutions that work across all markets in the EU. Also, we would like to see free trade agreements with more countries to reduce tariffs and to enable growth beyond a few big markets. 

We minimize our carbon dioxide emissions and aim to have a carbon-neutral product by 2030

Can you describe the importance of the beverage industry within the EU and the potential for Sweden in this export category?

– Drinks are the largest food export category out of the EU thanks to alcoholic beverages, representing high-value creation. Swedish export of alcoholic beverages is around 9 percent of total food exports, compared to around 18 percent for the EU. Sweden has the potential to grow its share if we can improve the conditions for all new wine, beer, cider, and spirits producers and better showcase what we offer as a country.

How much responsibility does Absolut Vodka have in driving Swedish food export forward?

– Successful companies can always inspire others by sharing their story. The Absolut Company must continue sharing our knowledge and build a network with other companies. We can take a role in tackling common industry challenges. We can also contribute to establishing Sweden as a gastronomic destination by sharing our local food and drink traditions when inviting international partners and consumers to Absolut Home. Another example is our platform, Tomorrows Table, where we highlight the value we create as an industry with other producers and share their stories.

Adding new flavors to the flavor range

Last month saw the release of a new visual design for the Absolut Vodka flavors range. We had a chat with Jonas Andersson, CEO at Brand Union, about the process of reworking the iconic line-up.

What was most challenging when working on this project?

There’s a great level of mutual trust that I think is essential in these kinds of projects. And I’m super happy with the outcome.

I’d say that it was hard to stay true to the initial idea during the entire process. The idea that we ended up doing was in fact already in the first proposal we presented to the Absolut team. And hanging on to the same concept for three and a half years was, I must admit, difficult at times. However, the idea was so direct and instantly likable that it was worth fighting for. We wanted it to stay clean and not add too many distortions or elements that would make it less powerful. We’ve been working with The Absolut Company since 2008 and we’ve been part of the last two design remakes, so we know how to work together to achieve the best results. There’s a great level of mutual trust that I think is essential in these kinds of projects. And I’m super happy with the outcome.

Did you have any prerequisites that needed to be taken into considerations when you developed the creative concept?

The brief was to create a more consistent look and feel for the entire product family. The existing design was a bit too focused on the individual flavors.  We wanted the full range to be in focus, not the single products. That being said, we did of course have to include elements such as logo, bottle outline and cap, but other than that, the initial paper was pretty blank. 

Which flavor was the hardest to get the right design for?

Once the concept was set, I think we pretty much had a straight journey to finish products. But the Watermelon were perhaps a bit trickier to get just right. 

How did you come up with the idea for the range?

The basic idea came from our designer Linus. He came up with the concept the day before the presentation, so he stayed up all night and worked it through – he actually slept at the office. I’d say he really went above and beyond to make the vision come alive and it really paidoff. As I mentioned earlier, the concept we presented in the first meeting is still very close to the finished products. 

How many people has been involved in the process?

Besides the core team, I’d say at least 50 persons from our side has been involved in some way during these 3,5 years. It’s been a priority for the entire agency to get everything perfect.