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!

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.

Two leading examples

Today marks the 112th consecutive International Women’s Day. To put an extra spotlight on female leadership in the Pernod Ricard group, we had a conversation with Stéphanie Durroux, CEO of The Absolut Company, and Mauve Croizat, CEO of Pernod Ricard Sweden and Northern Europe, on their experiences as leaders in an international context.

First of all, how do you feel about the International Women’s Day? Do we need one?

Stéphanie Durroux: My first reaction would be to say, in France and a few other countries, it’s not the International Women’s Day but the International Women’s Rights Day. Which I think makes a big difference. Regardless of the name, I do think it’s a good way to acknowledge the fact that fighting for the rights of women still remains necessary in many parts of the world.

Mauve Croizat: Agreed. I wish we wouldn’t need a Woman’s Day but if we take on a more a global outlook, unfortunately women’s rights are still an issue that needs to be addressed.

I do think it’s a good way to acknowledge the fact that fighting for the rights of women still remains necessary in many parts of the world

Stéphanie Durroux

Did you have any female role models growing up?

Mauve: I would say you, Stéphanie.
Stéphanie: Ha, ha, – wow, thank you Mauve.

Mauve: I wasn’t sure if you knew that. I’m usually not that much into role models. I think I rather have a selection of people that I get inspired by. People who have strong values and the courage of going through things and learn from their experiences. I’m not sure that I would necessarily name someone specific that I see as a role model, but a strong personality is always inspiring, and I think I would put you Stéphanie in this bracket.

Stéphanie: I’m the same. I don’t think I have specific role models or people that I systematically refer to. I was brought up in a family where all women worked. We are three sisters in the family, of which I’m the youngest, and we’ve all continued to pursue individual careers. My mother was a doctor and my two grandmothers used to work as well: one as a schoolteacher and one as a farmer. The latter one became a widow before she turned 50 but it didn’t stop her from running the farm by herself. I don’t know if they are to be called traditional role models but to me, just the fact that all women around me growing up worked, were independent and made their own choices in life has been important.

Mauve: I’m not looking for any type of any type of pattern here, but I’m also the youngest of three sisters. Maybe that has a greater impact on your personality than you think.

Stéphanie: You’re maybe on to something here Mauve.  

Mauve: I’d say that it has two sides to it – being the youngest, you are sometimes somewhat of a third wheel, and you have to make your presence known a bit more at times. Does that mean that we, being the youngsters in our families, have had to fight for ourselves more? I personally don’t think so, but I’m sure the way we were raised has had some impact.

What would you consider your greatest asset as a leader?

Mauve: I tend to believe that there are no specific gender dependent leadership traits. In my view, leadership is more about evolving the culture, the environment and everything else that’s universal and not attributed to male or female inherent qualities or prejudice. When it comes down to my own personal assets as a leader, I’d say it’s probably better to ask the teams I’m part of. But if I must take a swing at it, I’d go with humor. That and empathy and the fact that I am very approachable as a leader.

Stéphanie: I totally agree with you Mauve – both on your sense of humor and the fact that it’s always a bit difficult to reflect on yourself. I don’t know if it’s an asset, but I believe that somehow being a female in my type of role can be advantageous. It brings on a sort of freedom and a sense that you don’t necessarily have to be compared and benchmarked with many others. Besides that, I too hope that I’m perceived as approachable and straightforward. 

I wish we wouldn’t need a Woman’s Day but if we take on a more a global outlook, unfortunately women’s rights are still an issue that needs to be addressed

Mauve Croizat

Do you have any specific leadership philosophies that you try to follow?

Stéphanie: To me, it’s as important to be a team player as a leader. Or, at least, you cannot be a leader without working with others. I don’t care too much for hands-off leaders. I believe in people who know how to play the game and do it well by making sure they are included in the team. You exist with your teams – meaning you share the wins and endure the punches together. Meryl Streep once said that “you can’t do your job and be afraid” and to me that’s absolutely true and accurate.

Mauve: I second what Stéphanie just said. I was going to say that for me, the motor would be to lead by example, and I think that’s really in line with everything Stéphanie just described.

What advice would you give to young women who wants to peruse a career as a leader?

Mauve: To start trust yourself. It’s natural for everyone to doubts their own abilities from time to time. Lack of confidence is universal and not a specific female trait and it’s important to always be aware of that and to actively work with changing your mindsets. The sky is your limit, you just need to stretch yourself to reach it.

Stéphanie: I fully agree with Mauve. Awareness is key. I also believe that sometimes it’s good to just forget that you are a woman. You’re an individual leader and not just a female leader. Trust yourself to make the right decisions.

Pernod Ricard has an outspoken goal to be gender balanced by 2030. Why is that important?

Mauve: Statistics and facts show the importance of having a more diverse organization, not necessarily limited to gender. Facts show it is driving better results and reflect better our marketplace but ultimately for me, it is also about females being 50% of the population with no reason for Pernod Ricard’s employees to be any different.

Stéphanie: Same answer for me. There are variations and differences between the Pernod Ricard markets, but I think it’s a very clear message that we’re sending that gender balance – as well as other backgrounds, nationality and so on – is something we’re constantly focusing on. 

What do you love most about your job?

Stéphanie: Probably the fact that I so strongly feel that it’s more than a job. I never consider it to be a mere nine-to-five duty. It’s something that makes me feel happy and gives me meaning. 

Mauve: I think this might come off as a bit cheesy, but I will say it anyway. I’ll sum it up in one word – conviviality, as we call it. I love this industry we’re working in, and I love the fact that we are all about bringing people together. To me, it’s far more than a job.

Mixing content to a perfect cocktail isn’t just the biggest site in the Pernod Ricard company group, it’s where you find all the info you need on how to make the most exotic cocktail, or the best long drink, no matter what spirit you have in mind. We had a chat with Hanna Kastås, who’s been a crucial part of developing the Absolut drinks eco-system for all things mixable available on several digital platforms.

Why did you start the Absolut drinks site?

This is a site meant to function as a source for inspiration, it’s about what you can actually make using our product and other spirits – what to drink, what ingredients to use, how to mix, how to serve and so on

The initial insight was that we, at Absolut, manufacture spirits, but people drink drinks. So, we felt a need to help people up their bartending game and to move drink mixing into the kitchen at home. And that’s how was born back in -06. This is a site meant to function as a source for inspiration, it’s about what you can actually make using our product and other spirits – what to drink, what ingredients to use, how to mix, how to serve and so on. Today, we have collected over 4 000 drinks in our database. Apart from finding new drinks, new ways of categorizing them and new ways to present them, we’re also focusing a lot on organic Search Engine Optimisation to make sure we’re popping up as the no 1 site when consumers are searching for anything drink related. And this is pure organic growth, we’re not putting any media spend behind the site. And the great thing about that is that our visitors are truly interested in our content. So, the growth is slow, but it’s steady.

How has the Absolut drinks universe expanded since 2006?

Over the years, we’ve created a whole eco-system of drinks related content. The system is fitted to reach different target audiences, with both broad features and niche content. There’s a whole array of services available now and the common thread is that they all lead back to the drinks database – the heart of the system. The database contains everything connected to making drinks; ingredients, measurements, images, films, alcohol strength and recommendations of garnish, ice and glass. The recipes are categorized according to taste and occasion. Apart from, one of our strongest platforms is YouTube, where we have a series called Drinks with… The whole purpose is to showcase how easy it is to mix drinks at home, and we have a series of hosts that can help guide through all the steps in the mixing process. Adding to that, we’ve also developed a video platform called Drinks in motion. This is a collection of clips of the different stages of drink mixing that are automatically added together to create tutorials. The whole point of the ecosystem is to make it easily accessible for everyone who has an interest in drinks to learn how to mix and make everything from beginner cocktails to advanced long drinks.

How big is the team working with all this?

We’re currently about 7 people working on different parts of the ecosystem and We each have different competences; there’s developers, designers, copy writers and strategists on staff. Plus data analyst specialists and SEO-experts. We’re not a large team but I think we do a stellar job in going head to heads with bigger editorial sources.

What’s your biggest learnings from building the Absolutdrinks ecosystem?

Everything from how you find the drinks to how you make them in your own home needs to be easy and fun

I think the biggest – and most crucial – learning is that you need to keep it simple. Everything from how you find the drinks to how you make them in your own home needs to be easy and fun. People are curious to try new things, but they don’t want to be intimidated by complicated recipes and hard to get ingredients. That’s the reason why we’ve invested so much time and energy into making sure our content matches our SEO. To give an example: during the first wave of the pandemic, we saw a spike in traffic coming from Brazil. Covid had a profound impact on their domestic tv-productions, which meant that Brazilian tv started showing re-runs of a show called Laços de Família. In this show, they have a certain penchant for a drink called Casablanca, which spawned a trend amongst Brazilians that wanted to try out the drink. We picked up the spike and were quick to optimize the page content and that meant a lot of domestic Brazilian traffic we’re directed at And our content is of such high quality that visitors keep returning.

What are you working on now?

We’re optimizing our app “Drinkspiration”, also putting lots of effort into expanding our YouTube universe. We have Absolut drinks with… as our center of gravity, but we want to bring in new faces and ambassadors to be even more culturally relevant in different parts of the world. We’re also looking into how to utilize voice media. Amazon Alexa already has our drinks recipe database incorporated in their native search and this is something we want to continue to develop and explore. Voice is growing and we want to be part of that expansion. We’re also looking into developing our editorial content further. More filmed content for different platforms, new collaborations to reach new audiences and perhaps something for the gaming community. The important thing is that we’re not doing anything that doesn’t feel relevant and honest. Our content needs to add something.

Which is the most sought-after drink recipe?

Espresso Martini. Without a doubt. It’s been the most popular drink for quite some time now. People just don’t seem to get enough of it and I understand it. If you haven’t tried it you should!

Vodka Martini

  • 60 ml Absolut Vodka
  • 15 ml Dry Vermouth

Stir all ingredients with ice and serve in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon zest.

Espresso Martini

  • 30 ml Kahlúa
  • 30 ml Absolut vodka 30 ml Espresso 

Shake all ingredients until cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with coffee beans.

Getting the most bang for the bucks

As captain of finances, it’s the CFO’s job to make sure treasure chests are opened for the right opportunities. But to get hold of the Absolut keys, aspiring seekers need to navigate their cases through a tough archipelago, where all arguments are scrutinized by the warm hearted but highly competitive Irishman named Donny Tobin. We had a chat with him on how to make or break a case at the Absolut Company.

You’ve had a long career at Pernod Ricard. What’s your view on how the business have evolved over the years?

While we have grown as a business many ingredients have stayed constant…the amazing culture, great people, and strong brands. But over time, I think that the organization has become much more agile. It’s in many ways fair to say that the industry isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, when I joined the Pernod Ricard. Competition is more intense, consumers more dynamic. We are also bigger now and that means we also have more fire power to compete. But being bigger also means that expectations grow and as an organization, I think it’s crucial that you’re able to roll with the changes, and not try to fight them. For Pernod Ricard, I think that having adapted a more flexible attitude to embrace change, has made us more resilient to fast shifts in the markets. We have embarked on a digital transformation to further expand our business model, which I think has also helped us a lot during the pandemic. The ultimate ambition is to evolve into a platform company, where the brands and people can grow. Our people are resilient, our Business is resilient and that has proven to be successful in trying times.

While we have grown as a business many ingredients have stayed constant…the amazing culture, great people, and strong brands

TAC is working hard to foster and retain an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit within the company. How do you work with innovation in your team?

The overall creativity that’s inherent in TAC is amazing. As an organization, we’re really open to stretch the boundaries. And Finance is no different, playing a key role, whether on the product side, where we need to understand the consumer needs to fully be able to act as a sounding board for creative solutions or on the technology side to allow data to be more relevant and move faster to support decisions. It’s our job to connect the ‘business dots’ to enable innovation and to make sure we’re invest behind the right choices and at the right level. Of course, our Group Finance 4.0 vision is anchored on this progressive mindset.

Is development constantly required or are there still some old truths that always apply, especially in the field of finance?

Consumers continuously evolve… therefore organizations like TAC need to also evolve and be at the forefront of culture and creativity. Same also applies to Finance. Not only do we need to ensure that the foundations are strong, but we also need to embrace progress. Today, I think we have achieved a near perfect balance of a solid foundation and high-flying creativity revolving around that. And that is what helps us to continuously evolve as an organization. There are no revolutions, just progression, right. Both TAC and Pernod Ricard are organizations with solid core values and principles but with a curious mindset and that has helped us both become and continue to be successful. Our values and foundations stay the same, but our creativity can rotate freely around them, with Finance playing a great business partnering role.

What does the motto Passion for Progression mean to you?

I think that I didn’t perhaps fully appreciate the meaning until I came to TAC. The company has always stood for something and after coming here I now truly understand the value of always supporting progression and to move forward with the flow. I, as a person, am driven by passion. I believe that something inside you must burn for you to feel motivated, enabled and to be creative. I wholeheartedly support the notion of progression as a means to succeed – as a business and on a personal level.

I, as a person, am driven by passion. I believe that something inside you must burn for you to feel motivated, enabled and to be creative.

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

We need to take a closer look at where we want to win and how to win it. It’s a big part of my job to add value to the company by removing the mist and clarify the road forward. To help choose which battles to engage in and which challenges that are worth accepting. And this is something that I think we’re already good at, but that we can refine further to do even better. We have our strategic North Star, it’s our compass, now it’s about trusting people and empowering them to find their own way based on their experience, knowledge and skills.

What values​​ do you think Absolut creates?

Together, Audacious, Committed… we have great values inherent in our brand and one thing we’re particularly good at is to stay true to these. We, as a company, are committed to do the right thing and I as a person was brought up with the same type of values. I want to win, but I only want to win in the right way, and I think the same goes for The Absolut Company.

Why did you join The Absolut Company?

Well, for starters, the job was offered to me. It took about 2 minutes to graciously accept the offer with a lot of pleasure. It’s a new experience for me; with new brands and in a new country. I’d only been to Sweden twice prior to joining The Absolut Company, but I had such a great feeling about coming here. Professionally, yes it was also a leadership step up, but The Absolut Company is the biggest in the family, with amazingly fun and relevant brands. I wanted an audacious experience and Absolut is for sure offering this. 

How are you as a leader?

Although competitive and ambitious, I’d like to think that I’m a kind of down to earth leader. I hope I understand people and what makes them tick and how that energy can be transferred to the organization. I empower as much I can in my role as a leader and I put a lot of trust in my teams. Being a team player at heart, I love to hang around people and to be present where and when things are happening. Of course, I can be challenging if needed but I’m trying to be careful about when to play that card!!.

Being a team player at heart, I love to hang around people and to be present where and when things are happening

Do you have the same approach in the Management team?

I’m definitely not the quiet Irishman sitting in the corner… I think the other members of the management team see me as a guy who is always in the game but isn’t that easily stressed. And that I’m a guy who’s also seen as authentic. For me, it’s important to stay true to my values – in all aspects of life – both personal and professional.

One might say that you’ve been all over the place – being an expat Irishmen who has lived everywhere from Sydney to New York and who’s now based in Stockholm. Do you have a favorite spot in the world?

I like so many places, so it’s hard to pick a favorite as it keeps changing. When you travel as much as I do, you tend to pick up new favorite places along the way. But if you twist my arm, I can’t get around the fact that I still love to come home to my hometown in Tipperary, Ireland. One other place that stands out is Nepal. I trekked up to the basecamp on Everest a few years ago and for me, that was one of the most humbling and down to earth experiences in my life. An unforgettable trip in a fantastic country.

Besides traveling and pushing your own limits, what are you passionate about outside of work?

I’m a competitive guy so I am naturally drawn to anything sports related. You might even say that I’m a sports addict. When I lived in the US, I loved to coach youth soccer-teams. I love to see kids evolve. I have a lot of energy that needs to be released and sports is my way of getting things out of my system. I don’t like to sit still; I don’t read books and I don’t watch a lot of Netflix. But I do follow sports.

Which are your favorite teams?

I’m a passionate Man United fan if we talk about football. For Hurling – that’s a typical Irish sport – I of course root for my hometown Tipperary. And finally, when I lived in the US, I got hooked on American football and for some odd reason Kansas City Chiefs became my team.  

For me, it’s important to be attached and emotionally connected to what I do, and I have to say that for the last 18 years in Pernod Ricard, I’ve always felt that

What has been the most challenging moment in your career?

As a Finance director, I still find it somewhat challenging to overcome the prejudice about stiff shirts and ties, calculators, spreadsheets, and a dry sense of humor!!… Being an expat, it brings you the challenge of getting to know an organization quickly, ready to go from the start. But it takes time to settle in a new role, to plug in to an existing culture and finding out how you can add value. For one thing, I hope I never have to do this again in the middle of a pandemic, it was not easy from the other end of a screen. One of the greatest learnings of my life is that things are rarely as simple as they look on paper. Preconceptions are usually different to reality. You got to live the organization to understand the culture. In my experience, there’s never a one size fits all. When you move from role to role you need to spend some time understanding the people and the culture and adapt. And, maybe most importantly, you need to roll with the punches to rise to the challenges…. and have fun.

Paul Ricard had a motto to “make a friend every day” which is still a guiding principle within the group. What’s your best practice for achieving this?

I lean to people, it’s somewhat natural for me so I don’t need to read it every morning to remind me. I get my energy from people. In my life, I have some close friends, but many I like to hang out with and have great conversations with – preferably in a bar where you can have a drink and just chit chat about all and nothing.

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

Well, that’s easy: Center Forward for Man United, of course. Or maybe enforcer at the back. To be honest, I have no regrets about my career. If I’d wanted to do something else, I would have done it. For me, it’s important to be attached and emotionally connected to what I do, and I have to say that for the last 18 years in Pernod Ricard, I’ve always felt that.

A partnership that keeps on growing

Absolut’s One source philosophy means that everything used to manufacture our world renown spirit comes from the nearby surroundings of our hometown Åhus, in Southern Sweden. One key ingredient in Absolut Vodka is the unique winter wheat that’s grown and harvested at the Råbelöf estate, some 20 kilometers north of Åhus.

The collaboration between the distillery and the farm has been ongoing since the late 70’s. We had a chat with Erik Bæksted, CEO at Råbelöf estate, to get his view on the longstanding partnership between Absolut and Råbelöf.

How long have you been working together with The Absolut Company?

We have a very long relationship. I think we started our collaboration as early as 1979. And our partnership has evolved a lot over the years. Today, I think we’re the single largest supplier of winter wheat, where we account for about 7-8 percent of the total amount of wheat used in production, i.e. about 8,000 tons. The trust for each other is immense and we’re constantly talking about how to collaboratively improve our methods of working and how to help each other with best practice to reach our common goals.

What are the challenges of growing wheat in Sweden?

Sweden is very well suited for growing wheat, so we are relatively well off, I would say. Skåne’s climate is optimal for cultivating wheat and we have some of the best harvests in the world – together with Denmark, England, France and The Netherlands. By comparison, the United States only generates half the amount as us per harvest, and in Australia that figure is a third. Then of course the weather is always a challenge, but random weather conditions are part of being a farmer and it is a prerequisite for growing wheat in Sweden. The same applies to some extent to the various political challenges. Agriculture is a complex business that’s closely governed by the EU. And that’s easy to understand – our products aren’t just commodities, it’s a necessity. We’re literally putting food on people’s tables.

The trust for each other is immense and we’re constantly talking about how to collaboratively improve our methods of working and how to help each other with best practice to reach our common goals

There is often talk about the value of organic farming, but you don’t label Råbelöf as an eco-farm. Why not?

Yes, we are perhaps a bit unconventional in our way of acting. But there is a lot to think and say about ecology and to grow organically. In my opinion, it is a way of farming that was done 80 years ago. And few businesses today are run in the same way as they were in the 40’s. Over the years, the progress has been made that allows us to be more efficient and produce more and get a product that is more consistent in quality from harvest to harvest. Today we can control a lot of different factors that weren’t possible to monitor before. The analogy is much like if you run a banking business – working organically is like going back to using a bank book. One can also add further complexity to the issue: it is a fact that the world suffers from food shortages and organic farming produces only half as much as we do, which – if everyone completely switched to organic farming – would inevitably lead to starvation. Today we get consistent harvests and avoid damages to the crops. So, I see no real intrinsic value in starting to grow organically. The way we live off the land is much more sustainable in the long run, if you ask me.

How are you affected by climate change?

So far, I don’t think that we’ve been affected to any greater extent – meaning that we haven’t had to adapt our farming methods. So, this is not a big problem for us – yet. If you look historically, wheat cultivation runs in 30-year cycles. Sometimes it’s warmer and sometimes it’s colder. Right now, I would say that we are in the midst of a warm period – but these are not so extreme deviations that we need to think about changing our cultivation concept. However, we are of course always looking into new ways of farming sustainable. We have, as an example, switched to biofuel in all our tractors. This has reduced our fuel consumption by several percent. Our manure is produced in such a way that minimal carbon dioxide is emitted.

The Absolut Company has introduced a new model for its suppliers to relate to. New criteria to relate to are climate, soil health and biodiversity. How do you work with this?

I’d say we already meet most of the criteria, so for us it will not impose any major changes to our ways of working. With that said, I have a hard time seeing that we will drive around with electric tractors in the fields. Globally, 80 percent of emissions come from fossil fuels and, as I mentioned, we have already switched to biofuel, which I think is good. When it comes to our work with soil health, we balance our consumption of natural fertilizers and commercial fertilizers. We whitewash the soil to maintain the correct pH value. The earth is what we live off, so we make sure to continuously take care of it so that it can deliver the same yield year after year.

A transparent partnership

Glass manufacturer Ardagh and The Absolut Company have been working closely together for more than three decades. The partnership is characterized by a mutual respect and a passion to always develop, push the envelope and do better. And latest in their great line of collaborations is the brand new Absolut bottle.

We had a chat with Peter Gunnarsson, Key Account & Sales Manager at Ardagh on his thoughts on the development process of the new Absolut bottle and the secrets to keeping the partnership flame burning for 35 years and counting.

When did you get involved in the work of updating the Absolut bottle?

– We were introduced to the re-design project in March 2019. The new design of the glass bottle didn’t impose any major changes to our machines or the process where the bottle itself is manufactured. However, the decor turned out to be a little more challenging to get right. The front of the Absolut Vodka original is quite unchanged, but the back has been given a much more detailed print, which meant that we had to develop the frost color and create better conditions for the automatic camera inspection that takes place before the bottles are burned. The design of the Flavors range has been both simplified and made more difficult depending on which flavors you look at.

The very detailed decor on the back of the bottle

How long has the development process taken?

– The development of the glass bottle itself lasted for just over 2 years. On the other hand, to some extent the development of the new decor for both Absolut Vodka original and Flavor, for example the production of new artwork and the calibration of all different colors, is still ongoing. So, all in all, we’ve worked on this project for more than 2,5 years.

The artwork and the calibration of all different colors is still ongoing

What has been most challenging with the Absolut re-design project?

– The sheer scope of the project. The fact that both glass and decor were redone for all sizes has meant extremely extensive work during the development process. It has been – and still is – very tedious and challenging in terms of planning. With the old and the new bottles living side by side for some time, it’s an incredible puzzle in terms of planning to make sure we can deliver the new bottles at the same time as we are phasing out the old ones.

The development of the glass bottle itself lasted for just over 2 years

Can you make a completely sustainable glass packaging?

– An important thing that makes a product sustainable is its ability to be recycled. This is one of the strengths of glass as a material. It can be recycled to infinity. Through a well-functioning national system for recycling, most packaging can be recycled and become new glass at our facility. In Sweden, more than 94 percent of all glass is recycled. During manufacture, it is possible to use the recycled glass and also use as much fossil-free energy as possible during melting. Combined, these two facts make for a very sustainable glass packaging.

The Absolut bottles consist of just over 50 percent recycled glass

Are there any special sustainability requirements for Absolut’s products?

– Absolut is probably the player in the premium segment that puts the highest emphasis and demands on sustainability in the world. An example is the work done in recent years to increase the proportion of recycled glass by almost 20 percent. Today, the Absolut bottles consist of just over 50 percent recycled glass. This is truly unique and quite an achievement when it comes to making clear glass bottles. And that journey continues forward. It is also worth mentioning that we at Ardagh and our partners at The Absolut Company sit down together several times a year talking through everything that has to do with reducing waste and resources. Everything from LED lamps in warehouses to biogas in production is optimized.

You are one of Absolut’s most long-term partners, more than 35 years together, what characterizes a good collaboration for you?

– The collaboration is characterized above all by the enormous respect we have for each other and the common goal of Absolut gaining market share in the growing international spirits market. Talking to each other in “we” terms is pedagogically important for both organizations, we share success and adversity.

An important thing that makes a product sustainable is its ability to be recycled. This is one of the strengths of glass as a material. It can be recycled to infinity.

What do you think the packaging industry will look like in 10 years?

– I am convinced that glass will continue to play a central role in people’s everyday lives. Glass is completely inert, which means that the content doesn’t pick up any taste or smell from the glass, which makes it optimal for goods that are to be stored for a little longer. With the technological leaps we will see coming, glass will be very attractive as a packaging material. Apart from that, I think we’ll see several different types of bio-based packaging. Again, recyclability will play a major role.

Is there any specific country that you think is a pioneer in the packaging industry?

– I’ll stick my neck out a bit and say Sweden, with 100% green electricity and an efficient factory, we believe that we are pioneers.

Getting transportation is a challenge

With a global shipping crisis at hand, businesses all over the world are having to adapt to a new normal where transportation is at best unstable and at worst unavailable. This is taking a toll at world trade with low stock of many imported goods in several markets. For consumers, alarming headlines like “Empty shelves at IKEA and Walmart”, and ”Container shortage is threatening Christmas shopping” is everyday news.

But it’s not only furniture, tech and toys that are affected by the lack of shipping vessels and the massive increase in container prices. The global spirits business is equally impacted by the unstable situation. Being Sweden’s largest single food exporter, Absolut does of course also have to consider the logistical challenges. Both in terms of how to transport goods and how to plan for production.

– For us, the primary issues are due to the instability and uncertainty that prevails right now. We can’t really trust that everything we’ve done before still works the same way we’re used to. It’s one thing that we’re able to produce what we are supposed to at the right time, but it is a whole other matter to know for a fact that we actually have containers available to load the cargo. At the moment, it is sometimes a last-minute call, says Peter Neiderud, Head of Planning and Warehousing at The Absolut Company.

The global logistics chain is a complex matter and the pandemic has had a profound impact on the number of vessels available for transportation and, even more importantly, the number of people working to load and unload cargo at the ports. When covid 19 hit the world, many countries shut down and ports and harbors we’re closed or had their access restricted. With the world now once again opening up, the system has a delay and isn’t running at full speed. This means that the capacity to quickly handle all the incoming and outgoing cargo isn’t optimized. Simply put, there’s just too much work and to few people. The effect is that containers are stuck in customs or storage longer than before and a que starts to form. For Absolut, no immediate changes have had to be made, but planning and forecasting has to be done on a more ad-hoc basis from time to time.

Containers waiting to be unloaded at the harbor in Hamburg.

Our logistics works like this: we have a feeder boat that embarks Åhus once a week to pick up the loaded containers and carry them down to Hamburg and Bremenhafen. It is from there that the majority of all goods are reloaded to ocean freight carriers that transports the goods around the world. In return, the big carriers bring empty containers with them back to port which our feeder boat brings back to Åhus for re-use. This is the flow that we’re dependent on for the logistics to work. And right now, this is not always really happening, which means that in some cases, some of our customers have to wait a bit longer for their products to arrive. Lead times have increased to 6-7 weeks today, from around 4 weeks in normal circumstances. There is an imbalance in trade between China and the USA that adds to the problematic container shortage. Prices have increased 10-fold due to capacity being so much lower than demand right now, says Peter Neiderud.

Are all transports affected by the logistical challenges?

– We have the privilege of having most of our subcontractors at an arm’s length locally. But we do have some suppliers who are a little further away in, for example, Italy and the UK. Especially in the latter case, there is some concern. They not only have problems in the ports, but also with truck deliveries. This means that we have had to re-plan a bit during the year and produce according to availability. This mainly applies to different spices and flavors, which are sourced from all over the world and thus are extra exposed in several stages of the logistics chain. It becomes a kind of “trickle down” effect where certain lead times are doubled or even tripled.

We have the privilege of having most of our subcontractors at an arm’s length locally. But we do have some suppliers who are a little further away in, for example, Italy and the UK.

Adding to the though internal logistical challenges are also the fact that many suppliers are facing even greater obstacles. Getting hold of produce to refine is sometimes almost impossible due to high demand on the global market. Many businesses are competing for the same type of raw materials and flavorings which has made the prices skyrocket. – All these price mark-ups are affecting our suppliers and we’re lucky to have such good relations with all our partners – and long-term agreements with open books price adjustment formulas – that we can adjust to the changes in the world market together. We are doing our best to be foresighted when calculating the capacity needed and agile to avoid creating bottlenecks that can impact our supply chain, says Johan Blixt, Director Supply Chain at The Absolut Company.

What does this mean for the production in Åhus?

– We’ve had to increase our production rate significantly. During the year, we’ve added capacity equivalent to one full month’s production. This means that all our five lines have run at maximum capacity, and this has never happened before. We do the best we can to make it work and the staff has been fantastic in adapting to the changes and enduring the extra workload. It is done on a voluntary basis and so far we’ve run many extra Saturdays and extended Fridays to compensate for the increase in demand. And we’ve also hired about 25 extra staff to the production to be able to better manage the spike in demand. So, we have our hands full in Åhus right now, that’s for sure.

Absoluts’ fully automated distribution center in Åhus.

Stockholm ftw

When restrictions are lifted and people are once more permitted to see each other, our cities are rapidly trying to awaken from covid slumber. But the past year has spawned new habits and that means the city – to a certain extent – must adapt to our ways of working, living, and visiting.

To come to grips with the changes and to strengthen Stockholm as a progressive, lively, and attractive place, The Stockholm Chamber of Commerce has initiated a partnership with many important stakeholders and businesses in the Swedish Capital. We had a chat with Daniella Waldfogel, Chief Policy Officer at the Chamber, on how to make sure Stockholm stays on the map of where things are at.

What is Partnership for Stockholm?

– It’s a much-needed initiative that aims at joining forces between stakeholders in the business community with the aim of giving the city a renaissance after the pandemic. It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a particularly hard toll on the bigger cities and urban areas and Stockholm is no exception. The blow to many businesses in for example in the visitor’s economy and the creative sector was devastating as the entire world had to press pause. The blow was also immediate as many businesses in the city are relying on a certain pulse and flow of people. Partnership for Stockholm is a forum where we can interact in finding solutions that will retain and increase the attraction for the Swedish capital as a creative center.

How’s the city doing now?

– It’s really starting to come alive again. There’s so much positive energy around now that was missing just a few months back. The economy as a whole has been able to come out of the pandemic quite unharmed apart from the few sectors that were hit extremely hard. Miraculously many smaller businesses managed to stay afloat and alive, and we have not seen mass unemployment, bankruptcies or declining growth as many anticipated in the spring of 2020. As a result, Stockholm has been able to maintain its character. 

And how was Stockholm pre-covid?

– Stockholm was growing in terms of culture and entertainment. I think we were beginning to really establish ourselves as a more international city, similar to say Copenhagen. We understand that we can’t compete with size, compared to other global metropolis, however we are ambitious and willing to try new things. With that being said – I also think we can be even more influenced by other global vibrant cities when it comes to for example the night economy – making the city vibrant during more hours a day, and more days a week. 

What can Stockholm do to continue to position itself as an attractive place to live and work post covid?

– ­I think we have a good starting point. There’s so much competence and smartness in the city, we have a unique headquarter economy as well as an amazing start-up scene that attracts talent from all over the world. However, we are struggling with a dysfunctional housing market. People can’t afford to buy apartments and there are no flats to rent. We also have a problematic situation in the capital region with rising criminality and segregation. These issues need to be addressed with the right measures. This development can unfortunately also affect our attractiveness and competitiveness. Stockholm is still a safe city, but that needs to be both communicated and experienced in reality.

There’s so much competence and smartness in the city, we have a unique headquarter economy as well as an amazing start-up scene that attracts talent from all over the world

Would you say that the housing-situation is the biggest concern?

– I believe that the housing issue is becoming very pressing – especially for young people that want to move to the city for work. Today this is getting more and more difficult as the threshold for entering the housing market is getting higher and higher. This is extremely problematic for young talent – but it has also become a significant recruitment problem for businesses. Next year is election year, I hope that we will see a much-needed debate around the housing situation in the city region.

Do you think we need to rethink or rebuild the city?

– Not really. But we need to expand the city outwards. There are many great initiatives taken in the southern parts of the city, where we have traditional suburbs that are becoming integrated parts of the city, but with their own unique flavor. Covid might actually have helped this transition as many people have been forced to stay home and thus started to enjoy what’s right outside their doors more. That makes for great potential to keep developing clusters outside of the city center. I’m thinking about local shops, neighborhood bars and cafés, cultural venues and so on. We’re already considered as one of the most beautiful and cleanest capitals in the world. We’re not as buzzing as London or perhaps as creative as Copenhagen, but we have other strong assets. We have a very innovative economy; the city is beautiful and its always close to nature wherever you are. Stockholm is also a very conscious and sustainable city and I think there’s great potential in exploring all this even more when promoting the city.