Next level creativity

Jesper Åström, a digital mastermind and long-term friend and contributor to The Absolut Company.

Jesper Åström is a digital mastermind and a long-time friend and contributor to The Absolut Company. He was also recently named one of 30 most influential creatives in Sweden. We sat down and had a talk with him on creativity, data driven campaigns and his aspirations on becoming a YouTube sensation.

Congrats on your honorable mention as one of Sweden’s leading creatives by influential magazine Resumé. Why are you on that list?

– Thanks. I think they’ve included me because I say chocking things that makes for great headlines. They contact me regularly for comments and insights and my basic idea is to give them what they want. They know that I know how to use data in a creative way and that I have a long and strong track record of being good at mastering tactical outtakes for brands and products. I’ve been around some 20 odd years by now, you know.

What’s your opinion on the current state of creativity in Sweden?

– I think we’re struggling a bit to find our pace at the moment. It’s a huge gap between generations, where creativity means different things to different people. I recently listened to the biggest Swedish podcast Alex and Sigge, where they were discussing what they believed was the death of culture. Their take was that there are no new important artists with a contemporary impact around anymore. Art is dead. But I disagree. I think it’s very much alive, but you have to look elsewhere than traditionally to find it. Now, artists are creating amazing works on YouTube or in the gaming world, but the thresholds for accessing this kind of art are rather high for people outside of the communities. And it’s a different kind of art, that’s more volatile than a painting or a sculpture, which makes it even harder to understand if you don’t know how to crack the codes.  

Where do you find your own creative inspiration?

– I’ve come to realize that my creativity is best utilized when I have a fixed framework to be creative within. If I know the boarders and limitations, I can move more quickly into the solution, and I love to solve problems. I’m fueled by an inner passion to do things differently and to think of ways to tackle a challenge that’s never been done before. And internet is my greatest source of inspiration. But not the standard applications such as Facebook, Google or Instagram. I actively seek out communities where people discuss and share new ways of doing things. Where you can find passionate people dedicated to executing the perfect tactics for a new product launch or a Kickstarter campaign. Once you find these forums and get accepted into them, my world opens up and that frees my own creativity. 

What can we expect from you in the future?

– It’s my plan to become a Youtuber. I did a 29-episode tutorial on how to do a successful marketing campaign using data and I got so much energy out of that project that I decided to try my luck professionally. So next year will see the launch of my new project Marknadschefen, which is an online course on learning to master marketing digitally. I’ll still work as a consultant, but this is something I’ve been dreaming about doing for a long time, and now I think that the timing is right for me to see how far it can take me. Sky’s the limit, you know.

Changemakers coming together

Phenyo Mogamisi, South African entrepreneur and changemaker.

Coming out of the sessions, I had goosebumps. This was people coming together to solve really complex problems, and it gave me tons of new ideas for potential solutions in my local community.” says Phenyo Mogamisi. What he is describing is his experience from having participated the first-ever World of Wisdom gathering in August 2020.

Phenyo is a South African entrepreneur and changemaker, serving on many investee boards within mining, water management, tourism, and infrastructure development around the African continent. He is passionate about creating a more sustainable Africa, which to him partly means exploring new solutions in the region’s important, yet environmentally complicated, mining industry. He also works to allow the creativity of African arts and culture to reach a global audience, as well as to bring the wisdom of local indigenous traditions into sustainability innovation projects. **He was involved in the Absolut 2017 Gold Canne Film Award winning Afrofuturistic campaign, One Source lead by Khuli Chana.**

One example close to Phenyo’s heart is a **waste water recycling project. It makes use of Hyacinth plants growing naturally on waste in local dams into agricultural compost saving millions of litres of water while preserving the underwater life & the environment. The plant also has capability to create bio-energy, turning the waste into electricity.** It was to share such local projects with others around the world, and to connect and find new ideas, that Phenyo felt called to join the sprouting World of Wisdom community.
 
In the middle of a global pandemic, more than 600 people from 44 countries came together at World of Wisdom to explore a new way to tackle personal, local and global challenges. Hosted partly in a limestone quarry on the Swedish Island of Gotland, and partly online as a global Covid-safe gathering. Phenyo was one of the online participants, joining from his home in South Africa.

“This is an emerging network of people sharing the same principles of doing good in the world through collaboration and stewardship. Together we’re forming a bridge across borders and sectors to explore common challenges, new solutions and collective empowerment for building a new planet- and people-centric ecosystem,” he explains.

World of Wisdom acts as a community platform for open and playful co-creation around today’s most pressing challenges. Designed around ten simple guiding principles for how to come together, explore and create, it allows anyone in the world to set up their own gathering anywhere in the world.
 
The World of Wisdom August gathering marked the launch of this decentralised open-source concept, and more gatherings are now emerging through the growing community. The first gathering hosted a mix of co-creators, ranging from indigenous elders and meditation facilitators, to leading water scientists and sustainability experts from companies such as Tesla and Patagonia. The Absolut Company joined the co-exploration by hosting an online bar for participants to learn about sustainable bartending, while enjoying informal conversations around the future we seek to create. The SustainaBar was broadcasted from Stockholm, with bartenders Jakob Sundin and Joel Katzenstein guiding participants from all over the world in how to make more sustainable cocktails. The SustainaBar session was one of more than 100 sessions created by the participants during the six days of the gathering, some of which where recorded and can now be enjoyed on YouTube.
 
After this first gathering, the World of Wisdom community is openly inviting anyone to create their own gatherings and connect them into a global network. Phenyo Mogamisi is one of the first to accept that invitation, as he is now planning World of Wisdom South Africa.
 
“We’re now setting up WoW Africa with the intention plant this seed on the African continent. The idea is to explore the unique challenges and opportunities we have here, and mix our modern industries and cultures with our indigenous heritage. It will be a creative gathering, exploring the future of the mining industry as well as our local arts and traditions, in an attempt to co-create a common path forward for this region and the world.” he explains.
 
Phenyo believes that connecting and co-creating with like-minded changemakers from around the world, is one of the most important aspects of his work, moving forward. As humanity’s challenges increasingly affect more people around the world, more people around the world must come together to explore new solutions. Phenyo Mogamisi is one of those changemakers, connecting the dots and exploring the ideas that may bring us a brighter future.

Sustaining social impact

John Tran, Director of Sustainability at Pernod Ricard.

With rebellious roots dating back to the 80’s, Absolut is not afraid to take a stand in matters that matter. For John Tran, Director of Sustainability at Pernod Ricard in the US, this is his everyday mission. To advocate for changes that will help make the world better.

What does a director of sustainability do?

– Working in sustainability in the US market means working across the value chain to meet our sustainability roadmap for 2030. For me, sustainability is not just terroir, but also valuing people. It’s very much about being in tune with the zeitgeist and being relevant to the market we’re in and having a positive impact on society. And here in the US, there are more pressing things than just the environment. We need to mitigate our impact and be transparent in everything we do. And that’s where my role comes in.

Can you give an example on what you do?

–  By actively promoting equality and being anti prejudice, we’re trying to dismantle a lot of prejudice that we see in the US. Right now, there’s a heavy focus on race and I don’t think that was on anyone’s bingo card a few years ago. People and businesses that have been called out for discriminating are now actively trying to do something. I’m not saying that that’s the case for us, but we’ve also shifted a lot of our attention to equality related issues. My responsibilities also involve working with public affairs on matters regarding responsible drinking. We’re advocating these important topics, which I think is kind of new territory for us. We used to focus on three areas: under-age drinking, drinking and driving and binge drinking. To that, we’ve now also – through our Absolut #SexResponsibly campaign – added consent, meaning not using alcohol as an excuse. Only a yes means yes.

You’ve been with Pernod Ricard for quite some time now, how has the view on sustainability changed since you started here?

– History is always written by winners, right. And in the past 10-20 years it has been in the hands of a small amount of people, governing the narrative. But this is about to change. Newer generations have access to so much more information which has changed the narrative. And you have to take into consideration the fact that Gen z have experienced so much in their short lifetime. A lot of baby boomers and millennials grew up in a prosperous time with relative stability. But Gen z has already experienced house market and stock market crashes. They’ve seen businesses being too greedy and politicians being too powerful. To give an example: In the US, getting an unexpected $2000 bill will bankrupt 50 percent of all Americans. And I think that Gen z has become atoned to the needs of the future. That’s why social advocacy is as important as environment.

How do you take action to meet the expectations from the new generations?

– We’re currently exploring some new business models. Take the brands Our/Vodka for example. They’ve produced a basil infused vodka using only leftover basil that would otherwise just have gone to waste. But by asking their community to help with this, they’ve managed to create a whole new level of engagement and commitment. And in return, they donate back some of the profits to their community. So, the business model is all about partnerships. We recognize that one organization can’t make a difference on its own. So that’s why we essentially are working harder than ever before on bringing people together.

Bildtext: John Tran, Director of Sustainability at Pernod Ricard. 

How do you find inspiration and information on zeitgeist related issues? 

– Over my career, my inspiration has shifted a bit. My interest in how to make a cultural impact began through listening to different business leaders, like Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard and such. I still get info from them and I always ask experts when I need input. But I’ve also broadened my horizon. I now listen more to community leaders, to non-profit organizations and I follow social media. I also put a lot of effort into actually meeting people face to face. To learn about what their struggles and challenges are. And social media has had a huge impact on my understanding of the needs of the newer generations. This is their home turf and I get a lot of inspiration from future leaders who educate me on their point of view.

Who do you follow on Instagram?

– Oh, I follow so many great accounts and people, but if I’d give you three recommendations, I’d say to follow the conscious kid, soyouwanttotalkabout and teenagetake. These are all great platforms that help me stay updated on various sustainability issues.

Absolut has been taken some bold actions in the US lately, with controversial campaigns like SexResponsibly and VoteResponsibly. Almost an echo from the 80’s. What do you think about this strategy to cover lost ground?

– I think it’s great. For a company like Absolut, it’s important to take a position and be courageous. The newer generations are looking for organizations or brands that have values that are the same as their own. And I think that by actively taking a stand on relatable issues, that are so close to our own history, can act as a bridge between people. As you say, in the 80’s Absolut was cutting edge and pushing boundaries. Our US CEO Ann Mukherjee is all about pushing for a more just society. There’s a timeless story in our DNA about pushing the development for good, justice and equality. We’ve continued to keep our ears to the ground.

Bildtext: Image from Absolut’s campaign Drink Responsibly #VoteResponsibly.

What’s your view on the Absolut VoteResponsibly-campaign that’s currently running in the US?

– I think it’s a perfect example of what we want to advocate. And the reception has been incredibly positive. I think that there’s a notion that politics andsociety have never been as interlinked as now. That’s why it’s so important to raise your voice. And we will continue to advocate this. It’s not a privilege to vote, it is a responsibility. In America, only about 50 percent of eligible voters actually vote and we have consumers from across all spectra of beliefs. And that’s important to keep in mind. So, we’re not advocating for any party, but for the fact that your vote matters. Decisions that are being made have an impact on society and the world we live in.

Art that makes a difference

South Korean graffiti artist Xeva for Absolut Eco Street Art in Seoul. Photo: Visla Magazine.

Air pollution and fine dust is a real problem in South Korea. Through an expressive art collaboration, Absolut wanted to raise awareness and address this issue in an expressive way. And by using a special, pollution absorbing paint, the artwork did a lot of good in itself. We had a chat with Misung Park, Brand Marketing Manager at Absolut, about the project.

What is Absolut Eco Street Art about?

– Absolut Eco Street Art was a campaign that we did here in Seoul this summer. The whole idea was to use art in as a way of creating a better future. So, we asked a local graffiti artist called Xeva to paint a piece on three containers on the theme of what an ideal, pollution free Seoul would look like. But the artwork wasn’t just graphic, it was also functional. So, it had a dual purpose. The paint used is called Airlite and it’s a kind of organic paint that actually absorbs pollution, thus having a positive effect on the air. We also created an inside space on the ground level of the installation for consumers to visit and experience the whole idea of our campaign. They could for instance paint their own Airlite x Absolut bottle and express their creativity.

How did you come up with the campaign?

–  It’s part of a global brand campaign where the aim is to use creative collaborations to help build a more positive society. This was our way of leveraging the global campaign on local level. One of the biggest environmental problems we have in South Korea is air pollution and fine dust. This is a problem that transcends generations and is a concern for everyone. The air quality in Seoul has been declining the last few years, so this is a problem that touches everyone. We wanted to address this in a symbolic, yet concrete, way through an impactful artistic collaboration.

What was your role in the campaign?

–  I came up with the idea and then I was involved in the planning and execution of the campaign, together with our local agency and the artist. It took some six months to do and we originally wanted to go live in March – when the air pollution peaks – but due to covid, we had to postpone the launch ‘til July instead. The pandemic impacted our timings and we had to redo some elements of the campaign due to visitor restrictions at the event space. That meant we had to adapt the campaign slightly, as we had to be really cautious and safety minded, but in the end it was a success.

Why did you choose to work with Xeva?

– He’s a very famous, first generation graffiti artist here in South Korea. Graffiti is an art form that’s relatively new here and, perhaps, not fully recognized as art yet. We saw his portfolio – he likes to work with very vivid and bright colors – and we thought his expression was very relevant and close to our own at Absolut. So, it was a good match. And already from the start, he was very interested to participate and saw this as a meaningful artistic project. And he was free to express himself in any way he wanted, but we did ask him to include the Absolut bottle silhouette in some way. It’s such an iconic shape that it just had to be there and I think he used it very well. Otherwise there was no restrictions on our side.

What did the people of Seoul thing about the campaign?

– Reactions were overwhelmingly positive. Firstly, the artwork in itself was very beautiful. With all the popping colors, it became a vibrant installation you could see from a far. People were curious to come closer and see what it was all about. And when they learned that it was also actually linked to a meaningful issue, they reacted even more positively. This isn’t just green washing, this is taking a stand in an important issue. Esthetically it was a success, but the meaning touched everyone’s heart and that’s exactly what we wanted.

Producing the future

Anna Schreil, VP Operations, The Absolut Company.

If you are a big player in a small town, it is important to always keep a close track on your responsibilities. For Anna Schreil, VP Operations at The Absolut Company, this is old news. Over the years, she has together with her team consistently introduced and implemented a number of innovative improvements to the factory in Åhus. But cobots, fully automated high-bay warehouses and industry 4.0-practices in all essence – the production of a bottle of Absolut Vodka requires more than a mere push of a button. It’s a complete chain where every link – from locally grown grains to global sustainability claims – must be seamlessly integrated. Every day.

Absolut exports 99 percent of what you produce in Åhus today. In other words – what’s essentially marketed as all local product is in fact in many ways a global matter. How can this fact be combined with your ambition to run a sustainable business?

– We have a production philosophy called One source / One community, where the first is all about our origins and our way of making Absolut Vodka – with sustainability and quality in focus – and the second highlights the community that makes it all possible. One source means that our product has one origin. The wheat, the water, the manufacturing and production processes all originates from one place. This gives us the unique opportunity to control and maintain a consistent and high quality in all our products and to monitor our production footprint. We now have data on everything from the fields where our raw materials grow to the glass supplier, who’s production plant is located some three hours away from our factory. It makes us incredibly circular and enables us to scale up or down all the links in our production chain in a sustainable way. Then we have the human aspect of production. Vodka is not made at the touch of a button. It is a craft that requires an incredible amount of knowledge. You really must master all the steps in the process – i.e. before, during and after – to get the best product possible. And then last, but not least, we have all the partners in our supply chain – Our community. There are so many people who are involved in and around our production. We recognize their importance and that’s why we always work in partnerships that don’t just involve a transaction where we pay and someone else performs a service for us.

How does Absolut work to be as circular as possible?

– Sustainability has been a priority for us a very long time – both in our products and in how we make them. It is always important for us to act on the basis that we are global company located in a small town. And to recognize that this comes with a huge responsibility. We don’t want to be associated with people roaming the streets drunk on our products and we don’t want the locals to be uncomfortable with odors emanating from the production plant or being accused of contributing to pollution in any of the places where we operate. Consideration is vital. And the same applies to all the employees within the company – both in Skåne and in the HQ in Stockholm, but also around the world. If we look at pure environmental aspects, I feel a strong engineering drive to have one of the world’s most energy efficient distilleries. We must be state of the art and that means that we don’t let any resources go to waste. We take care of our products and our by-products, we are careful to nurture our raw material resources and we always try to have an understanding of our own place in the value chain we’re part of.

Can you give an example?

–  Take the whole story of our hand sanitizers. In that specific case, we realized early on that we had the spirit and thus an important position in the chain, but that the chain also consisted of a whole lot of other links that had to be connected to get the end result that we were striving for. To be circular is to look at the whole system and understand what happens both before and after you’ve left your contribution. And I think we are very good at that today. But of course, we also look inwards at our own circular processes to try and come up with new ways of how we can improve and increase our sustainability work. For example, spirits are purified from fusel oil, which in turn contains hydrocarbons, which are a great source of energy that we can use as a green fuel at our factory. We have already invested in and taken into use such a facility. In the same way, the alcohol that we use to clean the machines with can be used to heat our facilities with.

What are the keys to how Absolut’s always been able to maintain a good balance between tradition and innovation?

– I think it’s interesting to imagine how our founder L.O. Smith would have acted if he’d been alive today. I’m absolutely certain that he hardly wouldn’t have tried to preserve his methods and that he wouldn’t be opposed to trying out all the different opportunities that new technology could bring. I rather think that he would’ve placed great emphasis on adapting his how to the future, that is, being openly curious about new, more efficient methods and better ways of ensuring and maintaining a consistent quality. Value creation is dynamic, and it is not possible to lean on practices developed some 40 years ago. As an engineer, I think it is value-creating that consumers like the products we develop and produce and that they are willing to pay premium for environmental friendliness etc. At the same time – especially for a brand like Absolut – it is necessary to never lose track of the core values that we stand for; a -premium vodka made with passion and love. It’s important to be sensitive to what changes you implement as they will have a value-creating significance for our consumers. That is why we work a lot with consumer insight, to always keep track of how the changes we plan to do are received by our customers.

Which areas have been most challenging from a sustainability perspective?

– The fact that we’re part of a system is both an enormous opportunity to influence, but also a limitation in the sense that we aren’t in control of the entire supply chain. Take the handling of the wheat we use in production as an example. Here, it is challenging to build in sustainability requirements because those will come with a price tag for the growers. And who’s going to pay for their conversion costs? Us, them, the government, or EU? These types of questions are becoming increasingly important. Organic isn’t always the same as sustainable. At the same time, as it isn’t up to just us to administer the right type of conversion, we are one of the largest players locally in Southern Sweden since we buy so much of the farmers’ production. So, if we can collaborate throughout the entire supply chain, we can establish a more circular model faster. But it is important to take it step by step and start small scale and then level up. That’s why we work a lot with cultivation data, which we previously collected by hand, but now have digitized. This means that we will have the opportunity to follow a specific batch from sowing to harvest and analyze all the factors that have influenced why, how and when a harvest has reached a certain quality. But this type of work is not done in the blink of an eye, so the time factor is a huge challenge sometimes, with long downtimes before we can get the correct answers to our questions. 

What values do you think Absolut creates?

– Locally, I hope (believe) we create immense value for our employees. We offer interesting job opportunities combined with a nice community where we try to make everyone develop and thrive. Then we create value for the greater Åhus area. It is not only our employees who earns their livelihood from us. We are one of the largest employers in North-East Skåne and that means that many local companies such as shops, contractors, haulers and machine suppliers are dependent on us to some extent. But, as I said before, we are constantly working in partnerships where we have high demands on each other. This is a great way of staying progressive. We’re also running Absolut Home – which is a pride and joy here and helps attract tourists to come and visit Åhus.

And on a global level?

– In a larger perspective, I think we create a lot of innovation that can give our consumers new values or experiences. Two good examples are Absolut Unique and Absolut Comeback. Both represents new ways for us to talk about innovation and sustainability through our products. The bottle is our main messenger and through it we can manifest everything that we to stand for.

I recently read that you are implementing a process called Industry 4.0. What does it mean?

– In short, industry 4.0 is about creating new values by adopting and applying new technology. Value creation is nothing new – we do it for consumers, customers and stakeholders all the time – but it can have value in itself to find ways to be more efficient. And by efficient I’m not only talking about cost saving measures. There are lots of new opportunities emerging from digital developments. Take automation, which is close to my area of production responsibility, as an example: today we have a high-tech high-bay warehouse that is fully automated and we have ongoing trials with cobots (collaborative robots), i.e. robots that can work close to humans. Some work tasks at the production plant are heavy and not so ergonomic and here cobots can play a very important role in saving our employees’ bodies and help free up more time for them to for example analyze data, work with new solutions or training. Industry 4.0 is, a bit simplistic put, all about finding ways and new places to implement digital technology in order to improve processes, control and forecasting.

Is there any part of the production that’s impossible to digitize?

– Yes, for sure. One can never teach a machine to think about all the possible situations that may arise. Artificial intelligence will never be better than the programmer who wrote the code – there’s just no good way around the limitations of learning that’s been built into the algorithms. It is in a way philosophical. Intelligent machines can be excellent as a complement and as an aid. Collecting, structuring and analyzing data takes time and effort, but you’ll always need people to interpret and analyze. I think this is especially important when it comes to food. Eating or drinking something is an experience of taste, smell and texture. There is a lot you can objectively measure, but the sensory ability that humans have to analyze with their tongues, noses and fingertips and connect the sensory impressions to a complex whole, is not fully replicable in a machine.

“Today, it’s not just about taste, smell and appearance in a product. You want to know more about the origins, the company, the culture and sustainability and so on.” 

You have worked at TAC for a relatively long time. How do you think the perception on your products has changed during these years?

– The biggest change I’ve noticed is that the consumer’s interest in what and how we produce has increased a lot. Today, it’s not just about taste, smell and appearance in a product. You want to know more about the origins, the company, the culture and sustainability and so on. Especially the environment and sustainability issues are extremely much more important. Through the use of digital technology, everything local is also potentially global now but I think we’ve managed to build and maintain a strong leadership position through our smart use of tech and innovation. And it’s easy for us to talk about our origins, because we live and work in the middle of them.

What areas do you see as most important to continue to develop within TAC?

–  I think it is important to never lose focus on our consumers. We can digitize and streamline as much as we like, but we must not lose sight on all those who love to buy and use our products. Even though we are talking about implementing practices such as Industry 4.0, we must be careful to always include a consumer’s perspective. But we must never forget to develop ourselves too. We want to be progressive and at the forefront of many things, that requires constant development of our people and our collective capabilities.

What is your sustainability vision for the production in Åhus?

– There’s a roadmap for what we call Ambition 2030, which basically means that certain goals must be achieved within the next 10 years. For example, we want a completely climate-neutral product and we also strive to have a resource-neutral product where everything can be recycled. We simply don’t want any waste.

When googling your name, three major media incidents are recurring; one global, one national and one local. The autumn wheat shortage in Skåne 2019, the nude shock in Åhus 2018 and the black birds in The Absolut Tower 2017. Which of these matters engaged you the most?

– The wheat. Without a doubt. It was an issue that was so much bigger than just the fact that there wasn’t enough wheat available for purchase in Skåne. All of a sudden, we were faced with a real risk of no longer having access to everything we needed to manufacture our product. 2019 was the worst drought in 50 years in Skåne. We watched the farmers suffer and we saw how the whole system – of which we are very much a part of – shaken to its core. Animals had to be slaughtered due to lack of food and we had to save water and hunt down all the small drips we could collect. It was an unpleasant glimpse of what a system collapse looks like and I thought it was both scary and outrageous.

And what about the full monty at Åhus – or the naked truth, as it’s also called? What went through your mind when accepting to participate in a commercial where several of the production staff – including yourself – posed nude?

– When I first heard about the idea behind the naked truth – the vodka with nothing to hide – I remember thinking ‘who’ll want to be in this completely naked?’ At the same time, I thought it was a good idea and that it would be fun if it actually was us who work here who starred in the film. We are super proud of what we produce and we have absolutely nothing to hide. The casting was done entirely on a voluntary basis and I communicated early in the process that I wanted to participate. And it was, surprisingly enough, no problem at all getting a whole bunch of staff together and strip down naked on a cold and rainy autumn day. It was all fun and the whole factory came through with happy cheers and applause when we shot the scenes.

What’s most important to you as a leader?

– That I create the right conditions – for my employees and for myself, for a sustainable future and for producing premium products. It is a long-term commitment that I know requires my full attention at all times.

Which of your personal driving forces do you consider are assets in your work?

– The fact that I’m so solution oriented. I think that is a great asset. I often get a bit irritated when I think people are wasting more time discussing a problem than actually trying to solve it. It’s probably due to my desire to constantly try to find ways to improve things in order to develop myself.

What would you have done if you had not worked at TAC?

– I really like figuring things out, so becoming a forensic scientist might have been a good alternative career choice for me. I can imagine myself sitting around all day trying to put different puzzles together and combining traces and patterns to create new contexts.

The last question comes from your colleague Johan Radojewski. He’s curious to know how you – given that you’re so often positioned in the eye of the storm in many of the ongoing debates on sustainability, health, environment and globalization – work proactively to keep your finger on the pulse in these complex matters?

– The simple answer to a complex question is that I have the privilege of working very close to many experts on these issues. They help me collect and analyze the right intel and to filter in what is relevant for our context. So, surrounding myself with several and different types of skills is the key to keeping yourself up to date. I do also spend a lot of time reading up on topics and listening in to others who can give me inspiration and share their knowledge.

A new bar code

Iain Griffiths, bartender, co-founder of anti-waste punk pop-up Trash (fka Trash Tiki) and Global Sustainability Ambassador for Pernod Ricard.

Iain Griffiths is the co-founder of anti-waste punk pop-up Trash (fka Trash Tiki), Global Sustainability ambassador for Pernod Ricard and one of the bar industry’s most brilliant and alternative thinkers. We had a chat with him on how the pandemic has affected the industry, current trends and the future of the bar industry.

How has the pandemic affected you personally, and the industry as a whole?

– Personally, I opened a new bar in Toronto in September together with the Trash-collective that we had to close in June. It’s been a challenging and emotional roller coaster to be honest. Looking at the industry as a whole, it has devastated us. In a global sense, we were one of the first industries to be told to shut down. And in a North American sense, we were given a huge degree of false hope – we were told that we were essential workers, but at the same time we weren’t allowed to operate normally. We were forced to make do with delivering cocktails and to-go-options. And financially that’s completely unsustainable. We’ve been given nothing to help us survive. Quite the opposite, the laws that we are forced to operate under are actually hurting us more than helping us.

Sustainability is one of your great passions, how has the sustainability work within the bar industry been affected by the pandemic?

– Environmental sustainability is still hugely important, our planet is in an incredible bad place. But the with reality of the pandemic, and the minorities and marginalized individuals that are fighting for recognition – we just want to be conscious about sustainability being a part of that conversation, but without taking up space. The majority of bars in North America have only been able to operate through home delivered cocktails – and all to-go cups are in plastic. It’s all about taking the pandemic seriously right now. No doubt, environmental sustainability within the bar industry has become a far more complicated issue within the pandemic. 

What’s happening in the bar industry right now? Can you see any trends?

– What has been amazing to see is the way our industry has adjusted in every possible manner. For one, we’ve found new ways to educate and invest online and the standards of how things look has tenfold. It used to be hideous! I probably have 20 friends who designed their bar logo in Microsoft paint. Also, I’m stoked to see a political agenda feeding into our industry. We’ve begun finding a larger purpose and talk about race, politics, gender equality etc.

Iain Griffiths, bartender, co-founder of anti-waste punk pop-up Trash (fka Trash Tiki) and Global Sustainability Ambassador for Pernod Ricard.

What other trends do you foresee?

– I think we should take this moment of pause and self-reassessment to address the primary flaws in our industry and move forward in a clearer and different manner. I want to highlight three primary flaws; the first is the damaging language in bartending – the future is to find a better language and a better way to speak about ourselves, each other and the industry as a whole. Second is the expensive bartending consultancy which has created a big gap of inequity in the industry. Marginalized venue operators can’t afford consultancy which means they don’t get access to skills. Redistribution of finances and equity to marginalized groups will be key here. The third thing is that venue owners must become more equitable – both in terms of their staff, but also who they spend time with off work. It’s about fighting unconscious bias.

Want to hear more from Iain? Don’t miss his talk about “A Hospitality Career in 2021” on the Polish educational resource Barschool.pl’s FB page.

A natural dining experience

Visit Sweden's campaign The Edible Country turns Sweden into one big restaurant. Above is one of their tables in Asa Småland, Sweden. Photo: August Dellert.

During covid19 there’s no better thing than to turn to nature if you want to escape quarantine solitude. In Sweden, for the second year in a row, Visit Sweden together with Primus, Fjällräven and local tourism organizations are offering hungry tourists the opportunity to dine in the free. Edible Country efficiently turns the entire country into one great restaurant, where local produce is presented in the most natural surroundings possible. We talked to Frida Wallén, project manager at Visit Sweden, about what guests can expect from the experience.

How did this initiative come about?

– We know that many of the foreign tourists coming to Sweden are amazed by our close to nature lifestyle and are seeking simple, yet refined dining experiences. And as nature is one of our greatest assets, we thought about ways of showing off our great pantry with extraordinary produce in a natural setting. There is just an immense power in that combination if you get it right. Our way of doing so was to develop the Edible Country concept, a do-it-yourself (DIY) dining experience curated by nature. We had some of Sweden’s most renowned chefs helping us to compose menus from ingredients that you can forage in our forests, fields and lakes. And, as Sweden has the unique legal right to public access and open countryside (Allemansrätten), this is actually fully doable. The chefs that we collaborate with are hand-picked. The prerequisites were that they should be Michelin-starred chefs who already had Swedish nature as an important element in their cooking philosophies. Along with the menu suggestions comes instructions on how to properly cook the dishes. We want to offer the best meal experience possible with gourmet food at an unexpected location. The recipes have been developed individually for each table to fit the specific location.

How does it work?

– Each table is hosted by a local entrepreneur. They are responsible for any permits needed and if the guests have to acquire a fishing card or any landowner permission to forage. At many of the tables a basket of ingredients is offered to be used if everything can’t be found or picked at the spot. The menus are always inspired by the place where the tables are located and one  purpose of the concept is to get people to really experience the amazing nature in Sweden and learn about the place they visit. All tables offer a Do-it-yourself experience that cost 200 SEK per person, however most guests choose to book add-ons unique for each table. The possible add-ons include a basket of ingredients, a local guide that explains what and where to pick edibles in nature or a local chef to enhance the meal preparation experience. Last year, we had 13 tables open, but this year we decided to expand and open 23 tables. They are open for bookings from May to October and are located across the country – from North to South, East to West.

A real do-it-yourself (DIY) dining experience curated by nature. Dinner guests preparing a meal. Photo: August Dellert.

Why are you doing this?

– We want to show all the values Sweden has to offer. That’s why The Edible Country was initially launched as an international initiative and marketed to tourists visiting from abroad. But given the current pandemic and all the travel restrictions, we’ve also promoted this at home through our regional partners They are marketing their tables locally and the domestic interest has really spiked this year. I guess it’s as exotic to some swedes to visit some of these places as it is for someone travelling from outside the country.

Has the concept been copied abroad?

– Not that we know of yet. But you have to remember that Sweden’s legal right of public access is quite unique and I’m not sure that this could be done to the same extent anywhere else in the world. And that’s the key to the whole concept. The Swedish lifestyle is all about having the ability to roam free in nature. The nature is open to be enjoyed, as long as you respect it and keep it preserved for the ones that come after.

Tapping into culture

Johan Radojewski, VP Marketing Malibu.

Mastering digital transformation within an innovative company might seem like an easy task. But to stay relevant in a globalized market, while at the same time advocating Nordic values, you need to stay on top of more than just tech developments. We had a talk with Johan Radojewski, VP Marketing Malibu, about staying at the forefront while at the same time honoring your history.

In your corporate presentation it’s stated that “Johan is passionate about cultivating an environment where curiosity and courage can thrive, since he believes the best innovation comes from audacious risk-taking and teamwork.” What does this mean?

– The key here is to never stop being curious. In my opinion, you can have the best education money can buy, but when it comes to building an innovative business culture, curiosity is what keeps the wheels turning. And we’re all about innovations at TAC. Finding the next big thing and exploring new routes. So, we need to have a culture where people feel that they are being a little bit challenged to see things from new perspectives. The opposite of just sitting around waiting for directives on what to do. We distill insights, trends and impressions to invent new brands and develop our existing portfolio.

We live and work in a very fast-paced environment where new inventions constantly reshape how we interact with each other, how we communicate and how we do business. How do you work to stay on top of the latest trends that might influence your brands, especially given that you compete on a global market?

– You need to have several sources of input. You can read, google or consume popular culture. In our industry, the relevant insights might come from food trends or farming as well as music or lifestyle. So, having a diverse culture, with lots of entry points into different sources, is super important. Your own interests, as an employee, governn the way you are receptible to new impressions and new information. I, for instance, love food, drinks and travel. When you combine that with my interest in marketing and communication, you get a good sense of what I can bring to the company. And this goes for everyone who works at TAC. Curiosity and personal values surpass general knowledge. You can always learn as you go if you have the right mindset.

What’s been most challenging?

– I often try to dwell on the contrast between something being complicated or complex. Complexity is all around us. I mean, the world is a complex place, with society, technology, networking and an endless buffet of channels to choose from. But that doesn’t mean that things have become more complicated. Complexity is something that you can’t influence, but you surely don’t have to make things more complicated than they need to be. Take Spotify as an example: Why are they so successful? It’s not just because they have all music imaginable available. No, it’s because they are convenient. It’s so easy to find what you’re looking for. So, the user experience is what makes or breaks the case here. And the same is applicable to leadership or governance. You have to keep asking yourself how you can make things less complicated and more convenient. I think we sometimes have a tendency to overestimate technological shifts short term and underestimate their impact long term. And the same goes for the current pandemic. I’m pretty sure that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find that the world’s changed completely over-night, but in the long term, things will be different due to the learnings we’ve had to draw now.

You started at TAC some 8 years ago. It might not seem like such a long time, but in terms of technical developments it’s close to a lifetime. How has TAC transformed during your tenure?

– It’s a new company today. So much has happened over the last decade. Our interaction and dialogue with consumers and our different markets have improved immensely. We’ve become much more integrated into everything. And that has also meant that our work has had to adapt and that we, as a company, have had to put an effort into becoming more agile, and open to change, than before. As an example: back in 2012, you could spend 10 months developing a print ad and then you complemented that with an Out of Home campaign and possibly a TV commercial. That was it. Today, just the sheer volume of assets that you need to produce and the speed that you must keep is beyond comparison. And looking into my magic Chrystal ball, I foresee an even greater fragmentation. Things will get more complex with larger niche groups and special interests that we have to cater to. People want personalized experiences and products and, given the technological opportunities that we now have access to, I think that this will only increase. And that’s something we need to always be aware of and try to master in the best way we can.

Johan Radojewski, VP Marketing Malibu.

Is a forward-thinking approach and an aspiration for constant development required or are there still some old truths that always apply?

– One thing I’ve learned from our history is that the people working here are extremely proud of their craftmanship and they feel very passionate about the brands we produce here at TAC. And this is regardless of if you work in production, finance, marketing or any other function –in Åhus or in Stockholm. Take Absolut as an example, the current set-up and the great history are interlinked and essential for the brand. We stand and fall with our products, so it’s always a priority to have them as kick-ass as possible. One thing that has always been true is our quest for serving our consumers with the best “convivilaité” experience possible, whether that is a state-of-the-art vodka or an amazing event at a festival. Having the consumer value at the forefront has been and will be a constant mission but of course, the way we do it, and the tools we can apply will always evolve.

How do you think TAC’s Swedish heritage impacts the way you act when it comes to innovation?

– I think it is safe to say there’s a reason to talk about a Swedish innovation culture. I think innovation has been a cornerstone of the Swedish business society since its inception. Of course, in the early days with the big Swedish industrial companies, but that shifted overtime to more creative industries like the music industry – where swedes have been at the top of the charts since the dancing days of ABBA. And Swedish advertising agencies have done well in Cannes Lions and other international contest and companies like Volvo, IKEA and H&M have done great campaigns with global resonance. Today, Stockholm is seen as one of the most attractive places for the global start up community with many successful companies in for example Fintech, and more lately some really interesting companies popping up in the area of “impact entrepreneurship” with a mission of solving the world’s greatest challenges. So, I think the fact that TAC is placed in the middle of this, influences the way we think and challenge ourselves. And of course, Absolut is part of the amazing Swedish innovation DNA. And I’m pretty sure, that this type of creativity that seems to be fostered here in Sweden was one of the reasons as to why Pernod Ricard chose to make Stockholm the home for Malibu and Kahlua. To learn from all the great things Absolut has been doing over the years and tap into the creative culture of Sweden.

What motivates you?

–  I’ve always had a need for a creative outlet. I like to build things and to write and create. And my position at TAC really enables me to pursue this. We’re all about art and science, which I love. And I have a lot of freedom to create my own working conditions and that’s a huge motivational factor for me. And I like to be surrounded by likeminded people but with different backgrounds and perspectives – it really challenges your way of thinking so you feel that you never stand still.

From what I gather, you’re not old enough to base your leadership on experience alone, yet you’re not young enough to be truly digitally native. Which challenges does this offer you and how do you handle them?

– Well, this isn’t something I’ve given a lot of thought. It’s important to be attentive and responsive, both towards consumers and also internally. Be open and curious and try to not be biased or full of preconceptions to the best of your ability. The older you get, the more your experiences are cemented in your persona. So, it’s important to sometimes try to unlearn, to not get stuck in your old ways of thinking. And it’s of course also super important to surround yourself with people that constantly push you to  develop.

Johan Radojewski, VP Marketing Malibu. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

– TAC is an amazing workplace. For me, it’s an arena for all the things that interest me. It’s a way in and out to cultures and people. You really feel that you’re at the forefront of a lot that’s going on around the world every day. And that keeps me fresh.

As VP Marketing Malibu, you’re in charge of one of the more notable initiatives by the brand: the annual Malibu Games. How have you shifted focus this year, given the fact that there’s a pandemic limiting the usual set-up?

– We had to cancel all our plans and develop new ideas. Simple as that. So, we went back to the drawing board and started to back track our initial motivational factors for the Malibu games. Then we reconsidered how to utilize this in the current situation. The solution was to do a digital activation together with our influencers on how Malibu could help motivate their followers to have the best summer ever and how to connect digitally, when there are physical limitations. Malibu is all about bringing a bit of sunshine to our consumers, and this is a very good way of doing so through digital experiences.

Malibu is a brand with very strong ties to younger generations, to summer and to fun. How do you avoid being perceived as irresponsible?

– By being extra cautious and aware of that everything we do, say and communicate needs to be reflected on. We are responsible and we take responsibility for what we do, who we collaborate what age groups we communicate with. This is something that we never compromise with. Ever.

What would you have liked to work with if you hadn’t been with TAC?

– I’m a nature guy, so I think I’d be pretty happy working for the Sea Rescue Society. I love the archipelago, and everything related to boats and boating. The more time I can spend out on the islands and on the sea, the better I feel. It’s quite the opposite of what I do today, and I don’t know if I could do it for a living for the rest of my life, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

Next time we’re talking to Anna Schreil, VP Productions. What would you like me to ask her?

– She’s at the very epicenter of so many of the ongoing debates on sustainability, health, environment and globalization, so I’d like to ask her how she works proactively to be at the forefront knowledge-wise?

For arts sake!

For arts sake! Nahema Mehta, CEO & Co-founder, Absolut Art.

The artworld has taken a hit by the covid pandemic. But the experience has also helped to broaden the need for artistic commentaries and accelerated the online purchase behavior for customers around the world. It’s a pivotal moment for the online art space, if you ask Nahema Mehta, CEO and Co-founder of Absolut Art.

What’s going on with Absolut Art? 

– For now, the art world has gone digital – and for us, that’s a good thing. Specifically, Absolut Art has seen a +25%, +102%, and +360% revenue increase in online sales YoY in the months of April, May, and June respectively. We’re a digital player in an industry that takes place predominantly in the physical world. And right now, the physical world is closed. 

This sudden shift has proven pivotal for us. While we have always believed in an omnichannel experience (and we still do as there will always be a basic human desire to stand before a work of art in-person) we were guilty of relying too heavily on physical experiences and not focusing enough on optimizing our digital consumer journey and e-commerce experience. Covid-19 has forced us to hyper-focus on our online efforts on all fronts, and we’re ready for it, having recently welcomed the wonderful Martin Smeding to the team, who is co-leading the project with me as COO and Head of E-Commerce. We’ve been so proud of how the team has risen to the challenge and stepped up in the face of the many obstacles Covid-19 presents in pretty much all aspects of our lives. 

How has Covid-19 affected the business?

– Part of the reason we’re seeing this kind of growth during Covid-19 is that crises like these tend to accelerate existing trends by at least 3 to 5 years, and there are two existing trends that align with Absolut Art’s digital first and curatorial approach:

First, an existing trend in the art world has been purchasing art online – of the USD 65 billion global art market, online art sales is the fastest growing segment currently valued at USD 5 billion and expected to reach USD 9.3 billion by 2024. Covid-19 is accelerating this already impressive growth trend as people are rapidly becoming fluent in purchasing art online as it’s their only option. 

Second, art purchasing is part of the huge trend towards conscious consumption, which is also accelerating in the time of Covid-19: as people become more mindful about everything from what they put into their bodies (healthy eating) to “voting” with their dollars (deciding which brands they support), people are also becoming more and more conscious about what they bring into their homes. And with people spending more time at home, they are looking to upgrade their living spaces with objects that inspire them. 

Now is the time for Absolut Art to put our foot on the gas pedal! 

Will the art world move fully digital? 

– We believe that it will always be both – real world and online. Our industry needs an “all of the above” strategy through this crisis and also through the very long economic crisis that’s going to follow. 50% of the people who have given their careers to the art world who are not collecting a paycheck right now. 95% of artists who have given their lives to creating art report that they are making less money or no money right now. 70% of them report that they are less productive as a result. This is a moment to lean in and support the art world in every way that we can – whether it’s shopping online, or supporting the virtual art fairs, or donating to our cultural institutions. Absolut Art is a dual-sided marketplace and we are hyper-focused on supporting both our consumers and our artists in a way that also serves the larger community and cultural conversation. 

How are you choosing which artists to collaborate with right now? Can you give me some examples?

– We champion diverse, global voices which is core to our mission of making ideas and artworks accessible and open to all. In this current climate, we’re finding that two things seem to be particularly resonant with our audience.

First, we’re seeing a lot of interest in sales that support and celebrate important causes – there’s an enthusiasm for collecting with a purpose right now that is quite inspiring to see. For example, we commissioned iconic French photographer Brigitte LaCombe, who just graced the cover of Le Monde’s magazine, to shoot her life in isolation in North California where she is quarantined. The commission partially benefits the Coalition for the Homeless, shich helps the most vulnerable communities who do not have the privilege to quarantine at home. We’ll also be releasing a collaboration with celebrated female chefs including April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and Natasha Li Pickowicz of Cafe Altro Paradiso, in support of rebuilding iconic local NYC restaurants that have been ravaged by Covid-19. 

Brigitte Lacombe, California, Pacific #2. Courtesy Absolut Art.

– Second, we’re seeing a heightened interest in works that are joyful and uplifting. In the face of a chaotic newscycle where we are bombarded with scary statistics, we commissioned British artist and The Guardian’s lead data journalist, Mona Chalabi, to create a series of drawings using positive data from the natural world in honor of Earth Day. It was very well received and ended up on the homepages of Cool Hunting and Dezeen. We’ve also started to release a collection celebrating the beauty of summer including new works by some of our best-selling Swedish artists like Anders Romare and Kristian Bengtsson, as well as works by new Australian artists like Stuart Cantor and Ryan Pernofsky. 

Mona Chalabi, Aviation, 2020. Courtesy of Absolut Art.
Brigitte Lacombe, California, Pacific #2. Courtesy Absolut Art.

What does the future look like?

– I’m hopeful that, in the long term, there will be a continuation of the progress we’ve seen, especially in the last few months, of the art world becoming more welcoming, more transparent, and more frictionless. Making the art world more welcoming is also going to help solve a significant problem that we have in the industry, which is insufficient diversity. The more that we can make this industry more welcoming and transparent, the better chance we have of making the art world more diverse and more inclusive. Digital spaces democratize access to art by breaking down the geographical and socio-economic barriers that exist in the physical art world, and that’s what Absolut Art is all about. We will continue championing diverse voices and innovating towards a frictionless art buying experience, both of which are at the heart of our mission of making ideas and artworks accessible and open. 

The truth is the communicator’s greatest asset

Paula Eriksson, VP Corporate Affairs and Communications, The Absolut Company.

A passion for controversial campaigns, long term impacts of the pandemic on the spirits industry and why she would never post a tweet on national security. Paula Eriksson, VP Corporate Affairs and Communications at The Absolut Company, doesn’t shy away from tough questions. We had a talk with her on how Sweden’s biggest food export brand Absolut has kept their pace over the course of history and why the future looks ever so bright and shiny, despite the gloomy times that’s currently preceding. 

You’ve been with The Absolut Company (TAC) for many years and have seen changes in attitudes and behaviors towards spirits and alcohol brands. How would you describe that people outside the organization are perceiving TAC today?

– When I started at Absolut, we were a part of government owned Vin & Sprit. Then we were sold to Pernod Ricard and became a regular, privately owned company. In the beginning, focused on being fully integrated into the Pernod Ricard-world and adjust to their culture. And, with all the efforts put into assimilation, less energy was spent on maintaining and keeping good relations with Swedish public authorities and stakeholders. Earlier, when we were a government owned corporation, we had close and natural contacts with ministries and politicians but once we were settled in the Pernod Ricard-universe we realized that some of our old contacts were not even sure that we were still present in Sweden anymore. In recent years, we have therefore gone through great lengths to reconnect with our former contacts. We emphasize the fact that Absolut Vodka is Sweden’s single largest food export and that everything we manufacture is still produced in Sweden. Actually, my perception is that Swedish people are often positively surprised when they learn that we’re still made in Åhus and that we export 99 percent of everything we produce.

How do you work to stay relevant?

– For us it’s always a matter of finding and initiating collaborations with others. As an example, we didn’t create the brand Absolut Vodka just by ourselves – it’s always been done in collaboration with the most creative and forward-thinking people of their time. So, we are constantly working on our networks to be in contact with those who are shaping the present – right here and right now. For us, this is a way of ensuring that we’re relevant to in our time and for our time. That’s super important for a brand like Absolut. We need to be agile and quick to forecast trends and influences in order to be able to have a rewarding dialogue with people. For example, in the 80’s our focus was on art and artists, while today we’re perhaps more into people within the start-up scene. We are constantly trying to capture and absorb important learnings from what’s happening around us, locally and globally.

How do you and TAC work to avoid being accused of communicative “washing”?

– In my opinion, the truth is the communicator’s greatest asset. To be transparent about what you do – without hiding anything or exaggerating matters. It may not always be so easy to live up to this motto, but for Absolut, I think it’s relatively easy for us as we have all our production in Sweden. But, at the same time, we have other TAC brands that operate in several countries, such as Malibu and Kahlua, and both these brands are managed globally from Stockholm. And there, the supply chains are much more complicated. That’s also why we invest a lot of time and energy to map out and understand how we can influence these. As I see it, as a large company, you have an obligation to be transparent with what you know and what you may not know. My experience is that consumers are both accepting and forgiving, as long as you are open to and about your challenges and have a plan for how to deal with them.

“My experience is that consumers are both accepting and forgiving, as long as you are open to and about your challenges and have a plan for how to deal with them”

Which market do you see as the most challenging from a communications perspective?

– My initial instinct is to say Sweden, although it obviously depends a little on what you mean by challenging. In Sweden, it is a challenge that there is a limited understanding domestically for our industry and our specific terms and conditions. We have quite unique historical conditions here at home given the long Vin & Sprit monopoly. This means that we have to think in a completely different way about how, where, when and what we communicate in Sweden. But there’s obviously other markets with different challenges that we need to address. In the US, for example, need to tell a new generation about all the fantastic values that Absolut stands for.

Which values ​​do you think Absolut creates?

– I think that a lot of the values ​​we create are based on our passion for progression. We are constantly trying to find new circular sustainability models and innovative solutions and we always aim to have an entrepreneurial mindset. In Sweden, we are a well-integrated part of the economic ecosystem and in our large network we can contribute with a lot of good things that helps to pave the way for a more circular economy. Two examples; we sell stillage – which is a by-product from the fermentation – to livestock farmers and we sell C02 from our fermentation to algae cultivation. We create job opportunities for around 2000 people in southern Sweden. Both directly in the form of our 500 employees at TAC, but also by generating additional business in and around Åhus. We have a visitor center, so we are part of the tourism industry now too. And we also contribute a lot by being a big advocate of Swedish values. We believe in openness and inclusiveness regardless of origin, sexual orientation or gender. This is always expressed in some way in our campaigns. One might think that we’re stating the obvious, but sadly you don’t have to travel far beyond our borders to learn that this kind of position can be perceived as quite provocative and controversial. But we want to contribute to a development where individuals can live their lives as they wish.

Alcohol and communication can, of course, be seen as not entirely unproblematic. How do you and TAC work with responsible consumption and responsible communication?

– When it comes to consumption, it is always a matter of treading with great cautions. I believe that there is a legitimate position for our products in-between abstention and abuse. Where the actual boundary goes is obviously individual, but in general, I think you can say that when your alcohol consumption is becoming a problem for either yourself or for others, then you’ve most likely passed it. When it comes to our communications, we are always extremely careful – both in what we say and what we don’t say as well as in what we do and don’t do. Our communication should be responsible and follow good taste and good manners and we would, for example, never try to piggyback on people’s insecurities nor imply that one becomes more popular or successful by consuming our products. Or that you perform better. And, of course, we never target or address minors. We sell premium products and our whole business idea is based on people drinking less, but better.

Art, fashion, culture and gastronomy are all natural parts of the Absolut brand – how does TAC work communicatively to tie these various initiatives together?

– Everything we do is held together by our motto Passion for Progression. By that, we mean that we like to be a part of and a driver for progress. This is nothing new to us. It actually goes back all the way to L.O. Smith and the way he liked to do business. He was a curious guy and we’ve tried to incorporate his sense of curiosity into the foundation of the company. We want to be relevant to our consumers and to be present in a context that’s natural and familiar to them. But – and this is important –  we want to be there with integrity. For us, as I said earlier, it is about sharing and disseminating our values of openness and of having an inclusive attitude and constantly seeking partnerships that can help us develop and progress. Regardless of issues, matters, genres or sectors.

Absolut has, over the years, built brand identity by questioning norms and stick it’s neck out. Which is your favorite campaign?

– And this is something that I, personally, is very proud of. One of my favorite campaigns is actually our latest major initiative #SexResponsibly. I think it, in a good way, touches on and raises a difficult question that is extra relevant to us as a spirit producer. Alcohol can never be used as an excuse. There´s no exceptions to that fact. But there are also other historical initiatives that I’m very fond of. One example is that we were so early in our support of the LGBT movement, already in the beginning of the 80s. And I’m proud that we didn’t back away when HIV came, I mean – we even organized a fundraiser to support HIV-infected people.

The Swedish food and beverage industry is going through one of its most trying times right now. What do you at TAC do to support them?

– In almost all of our communications at the moment, we try to find ways to lift how we can support small producers who suffer extra from the fact that bars and restaurants are unable to keep up their usual pace. For many smaller businesses these are their most important distribution channel. We try to support them by paying attention to their situation and help market the immense variety of fantastic products that you, as a Swedish consumer, can order at Systembolaget. At the same time, we also encourage and remind people to support bars and restaurants. Buy take-away or gift cards that can be used later. Help to put a silver lining on their existence now, in the same way that they help you in more normal times. As a company, we try to avoid canceling as much as possible and instead reschedule or postpone planned events, so that they can be held when society returns to a more ordinary everyday life again.

How are you affected yourself?

– We are very much affected by the fact that people cannot travel or go out as they used to before covid-19. Our whole business is built around socializing and social interaction. But we are also fortunate to be part of a large and stabile group during these trying times. It is a very privileged position to be part of a big company with so many strong and beloved brands and that also has a sound strategy on how to act during extraordinary circumstances.

How do you forsee the development of Swedish gastronomy over the next 10 years?

– I think it might be good to look in the rearview mirror sometimes to better be able to predict what’s coming ahead. We have had an incredible gastronomical development at home over the past 10 years. You can almost talk about a Swedish cooking wonder. The quality of the craft now is so incredibly much higher compared to 10-20 years ago. Today, there is so much knowledge and passion amongst Swedish chefs, combined with a kind of humble compromise. You dare to take your skills to the limit and see what you might find. And I think this mindset will continue and prosper and also transfer into the way that we, as food and drink producers, will think and act. We will see more niche producers making amazing products. And we will see an increasing willingness amongst consumers to pay for quality. I also think we will start to talk more about regional cuisine, about terroir and about origin, and not just talk about “Swedish” food. There is clearly an increased pressure from consumers that wants to know where the products they’re being served comes from and how they are manufactured. This means that we need to accept a greater responsibility at the producer level. We need more transparency and more knowledge. Consumers are discerning and as a producer, you must be able to answer whether what you produce or manufacture is justifiable.

You have, not least because being so active on Twitter, from time to time been acting  spokesperson for the entire TAC. How do you handle that?

– Well, for starters, I do consider my Twitter account my own. With that said, I am also aware that I use it as a professional, meaning for work purposes. So what I say might have an effect on the company, and this is something I always consider before posting a tweet. Bur all misinterpretations are my own and it is entirely up to me and my own judgment govern what I publish. To some extent that naturally holds me back from posting to much private stuff on my Twitter, as they run the risk of being seen in the light of the company. I won’t post any security policy-related comments for example.

Do you have any role models and if so which ones?

– One person I admire greatly is the murdered human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. She was basically a just an ordinary history teacher who had an inner conviction to seek the truth about human rights. Someone, who so selflessly stands up against a system, is impressive. Her integrity, despite living with a death threat, is astounding and I think it is very important that she – and others who have acted unselfishly because they believe in something greater than themselves – are never forgotten.

What would you have done if you had not worked at TAC?

– I dreamed of becoming a journalist, but, unfortunately, I think I am a little too uncritically. I tried my luck at it a few times, but I never really got the hang of it. But I’m also very much into problem solving, so engineer is also something I might would have considered today. I feel great inner calm and satisfaction when I solve a problem.

Next person in line to be interviewed is Johan Radojewski, VP Marketing Malibu. What question would you like me to ask him?

What’s it like to lead to a global brand like Malibu from Sweden, given that the brands biggest markets are the United States and other key markets include the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain? How do you know what consumers around the world actually want and how they like to be addressed?