Doing good in times of troubles

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but in the Philippines and Mexico, things have been really challenging. We had a talk with Lynne Millar, Purchasing Director at Malibu and Kahlúa operations at Pernod Ricard, on the status of the Malibu initiative the Coconut Commitment and the Kahlúa project; Coffee for Good.

How are the Coconut Commitment and Coffee for Good initiatives doing?

If I start with the Malibu program, life in the Philippines during the pandemic has been especially difficult. In rural areas there is a lack of sanitation and getting access to provide support can be a major challenge as most of the Philippines has been in a lockdown. In the region where most of our coconut farmers are located, the situation has been even worse with the military taking control of the area and setting up checkpoints in efforts to try and control the spread of the virus and to prevent migration of people to different regions. In these areas there is little access to fresh water and no money to buy sanitation equipment and extra food supplies, but within the framework of the program our partner the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) was able to access additional funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development to help aid the community by distributing emergency packs with rice, corn, bottles water and face masks to the farmers. At times, we really didn’t know if our farmers even had enough food to feed their families, so it’s amazing that we could help in some small way.

Our ambition is to double the work to make up for time lost during last year

In addition to the hardest of times facing a global pandemic, the country was struck by a super typhoon in November claiming several lives and affecting over 2 million people, with widespread destruction of homes. As a culture they are so incredibly resilient.

The program was naturally impacted heavily by these circumstances and everyone connected to the project has had to adapt. It was our initial plan to sit down face to face with the farmers to assess a starting point for each individual by defining number of hectares planted, number of family members and typical annual yields and income. This was of course not possible now, so we tried to do what we could from a distance, but it wasn’t easy when we couldn’t talk directly with all farmers. But by reaching 10-20 percent of the farmers, we’re at least able to make qualified assumptions based on the intel we were able to get. We will validate our assumptions when it’s possible.

We also had to cancel all on-site training of the farmers, and instead switch to digital sessions, but eventually we managed to have a consultant visit the area once the hardest restrictions were lifted. The consultant then carried out an assessment of the situation and put together a plan for a set of demo farms that can help train the farmers in sustainable farming methods and how to maximise the efficiency of the farm to both improve the yield and minimize the negative impact on the environment. When time allows, we will build additional demo farms with the involvement of the farming communities, especially the youth. Our ambition is to double the work to make up for time lost during last year. We’re ready with all the infrastructure needed when we’re allowed to restart at site. So, we’ve not wasted any time, but we’ve made less progress than we hoped. Our major targets over the four years of the initiative are to increase the farmer’s yield by 20%, increase income by 15% and also to help the farmers to adapt to more sustainable farming practices, guided by the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) tool developed by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform.

Image from a previous site visit in the Philippines for the Coconut Commitment program.

And how has the situation been in Mexico for the Coffee for Good farmers?

It has been a similar difficult situation. The Veracruz region was mainly cut off and access controlled by military adding to that, there was some skepticism amongst the farmers on the severity of the covid virus initially. Our NGO Fondo Para La Paz did their best to educate the farmers and raise their awareness and eventually they understood the serious nature of the situation. Even if Kahlua invests a lot in the program, when Covid 19 impacted the world in 2020 Kahlúa immediately allocated additional funds to ensure that the farmers and the team of our NGO partners Fondo Para La Paz had access to protective clothing and sanitizer products.

For Malibu, we’re really ready to ramp things up. Both by increasing the training of the farmers and the physical help in providing crops for planting.

In terms of progress for the project, things were slowed down a bit, but the Coffee for Good initiative is so mature by now that there was no immediate need for new planning. This year, we’ve had bigger yields than ever before, so all the planting and work we’ve been doing is proving successful and generating results. Adding to that, both Brazil and Colombia have had bad crops last year which has driven up the prices to a new high. Good news for our farmers as they could take advantage of a short term opportunity to earn more.

Now that the area has opened up a bit more, our NGO can visit the farms again, and some of the construction projects that has been put on hold can continue again. I’m sure we’ll be up to speed quite fast in Mexico soon.

Lynne Millar, Purchasing Director Malibu and Kahlúa operations at Pernod Ricard (to the right) during a previous visit in Mexico for the Coffee for Good program.

What are the next steps?

For Malibu, we’re really ready to ramp things up. Both by increasing the training of the farmers and the physical help in providing crops for planting. We have a program to replace old coconut trees that are not productive and we’re also looking into varieties that are more resistant to climate change so we can maximize yields over time. That’s our top priority from now on.

For Kahlúa, our plan is to reach the target of 100 percent sustainable coffee by 2022. And we’re well on track to achieving this. Our long-term plan is also to continue to purchase from these communities for many years, even after we’ve completed our Coffee for Good project.

About the programs

The Coconut Commitment

The Coconut Commitment is Malibu’s way of helping to positively impact the livelihood for 500 coconut farmers in the Philippines by 2024. The goal is to increase their income and farm yields and help them adapt their farming practices.

Coffee for Good

Kahlúa’s initiative Coffee for Good is a sustainable development program designed to have a meaningful environmental and socio-economic impact on the lives of Mexican coffee farmers and their families. Shining a spotlight on how it sources its coffee, Kahlúa has also outlined its ultimate goal – to source 100% of its coffee from sustainable communities by 2022.

A man with a mission

As a kid, he wanted to explore space and as an adult he has made it a mission to make the world a better place. Through marketing, inclusivity and meaningful communication, Charl Bassil, Global Vice President Marketing, has set an example on how to use the power of a brand to create positive change. We sat down with the expat South African to learn more about what’s really in the Absolut spirit.

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?

– I genuinely believe we need to create a shared vision of the future. To really get to terms with why and how the future will be better than today. Once you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to plan the journey. And if you are all on board the ride, you can start to find shortcuts or devise a better route as you go. But it all starts with the vision. Coming from South Africa, I have seen the transformation of our own South African society and I take a lot of inspiration from Nelson Mandela and how he constantly worked with getting people to share his vision of inclusivity. Getting a buy-in from the people helped him achieve so much during his five years as a leader for South Africa. Just amazing. If you want to encourage and nourish an innovative culture you need to figure out what the consumer needs, look at and be inspired by what others are doing – as my father used to say, there is no shame in stealing with your eyes – and always try to have a collaborative mindset. The pieces of the puzzle need to fit together to create a full picture, right.

What other innovative companies, brands and entrepreneurs inspire you?

– There are so many great examples, but if I have to name one company that I think has had an incredible journey, I’d say Coca Cola. They’ve successfully managed to move from being a soft drinks manufacturer to a complete beverage company. Another great example is the craft tonic water company Fever Tree, who now make a range of mixers. I think that they’ve really mastered the art of finding and exploiting a niche in the market. There is a saying in our family that when gold gets discovered, don’t just be another miner, but rather be the one who sells the mining equipment. To me, that’s what Fever Tree has understood. And then this answer would not be complete if I didn’t mention Elon Musk. As South Africans, we don’t always have examples of innovators from our own country who are globally renowned. But Elon is one of them and I admire his willingness to try things without the fear of criticism.  He has made massive strides to help break the myth that great thinking does not come from smaller places. And even though he can come across as little crazy at times, I think he is great.

Coming from South Africa, I have seen the transformation of our own South African society and I take a lot of inspiration from Nelson Mandela and how he constantly worked with getting people to share his vision of inclusivity

What value does Absolut bring to a world where no one drinks vodka?

– Throughout our history, Absolut has focused on three very important things. The first thing is our dedication to inclusivity. We embrace diversity and we are no strangers to welcoming outsiders into our community. When Absolut collaborated with Andy Warhol, the brand became one of the first major brands to truly engage with the LGBT community at scale. This mindset of inclusivity goes back all the way to our founder L.O. Smith, who always worked hard for social inclusivity – especially for worker and women’s rights. And this way of conducting business really attracted me to the brand. As the son of immigrant parents (coming from Lebanon), I can easily relate to the feeling of being an outsider in your community.

You mentioned three key points. What’s number two on your list?

– Absolut has in so many ways been defined by its progressiveness. There’s a constant will and ambition to move forward and to make things better. The Absolut Company has Passion for Progression as our mission statement, and I think it rings true when you think about all the past and present initiatives that have been or are about to be implemented. For example, L.O. Smith reformed the production process to be able to offer good quality vodka at a reasonable price. Another proof point is the fact that Absolut Peppar and Absolut Citron were the very first flavored vodkas ever introduced on the market.  Currently our operations teams are doing some fantastic work at our production facility in Åhus to reduce our environmental impact that has been incredibly progressive.

Third and last?

– Absolut has always embraced creativity. Not just in the sense of modern art, but in a much broader way. It is well known that our first major collaboration was with the artist Andy Warhol, so the bar was set very high from the start. But we have also worked with graffiti artists and with street art, and also with entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and many Gen Z-artists and creatives, who are doing amazing things just using their mobile phones. Creativity is core for how we bring our brand to life and that mindset has fostered a unique openness to trying new things. That’s part of the reason we have the creative platform of “Create better together” built into in all our briefs.

What role can and shall Absolut have as an international brand in a very polarized world today?

– Our purpose, as a brand, is to create a more open world. How we go about this is different in different parts of the world. For instance, in the US we need to break the ice a little bit more than in Europe. That’s why we chose to work with Rain for our #SexResponsibly campaign. At the same time, we have a strong legacy when it comes to manifesting our purpose through our actions. As mentioned previously, we have always advocated for inclusivity and we continue to embrace diversity. In my opinion, it’s all about the mix and how it helps to elevate your purpose – regardless of market, collaboration or campaign.

There’s a constant will and ambition to move forward and to make things better

How did the campaign It’s in our Spirit come about?

– A few years ago, Absolut was suffering from fragmentation in what was communicated and how we communicated our message. At the same time our global CEO was driving for global consistency across our global brands. After reviewing the last 40 years of communication and reflecting on what is relevant for consumers today we have defined “Create better together” as our global creative platform (or big idea) which has since become a beacon for us when developing new campaigns. The “It’s in our spirit” campaign is targeting Gen Z consumers across EMEA Latam and Asia, a generation which in many ways has been described as the loneliest generation ever. They are more connected than any previous generation, but they are feeling isolated from a group. So, we wanted to capture their situation in this campaign and highlight the desire to meet each other, digitally but even more so in real life. To illustrate this, we collaborated with four well-known influencers (across film, music and gaming) to help manifest our need to belong and connect.

From Absolut’s “It’s in our Spirit campaign”, 2020.

How has it been received?

– It worked just as we’d hoped in the UK, Germany and China, so we’re very pleased with the results there. On the other hand, we faced some challenges in South Africa and Brazil, where we will need to refine the communication slightly.

Which is your all-time favorite Absolut campaign?

– For me personally, it’s hard to choose. But the original Absolut perfection campaign by TBWA is beautifully crisp and simple. It has indeed become an iconic piece of advertising. What has made it personally even more relevant for me is the discovery that the creative director behind the campaign was South African, even though he was living in NYC at the time. But knowing that has weirdly given me a bit of confidence that as a South African I do have some legitimacy to be a part of the Absolut story.

“Absolut Perfection”, print campaign, 1980.

What’s most important to you in your job?

– Creating value is really important to me. Let me elaborate. Firstly, I mean adding value to an organization where I work so that it is better off when I leave than before I joined – and that specially applies to the people I have the privilege to work with. Secondly, creating value for our consumers. This can be done in many ways of course, but for me it’s very important that we are able to spread a message that is positive and uplifting to inspire others and to help create a relief from the everyday challenges in the world. And last but not least, I know that creating value for the business is important by contributing to the bottom line.  

What has been the most challenging moment in your career? What did you learn

– Like so many people I guess my career has been marked by several challenging moments. But if there is one thing I take away consistently it is that situations will never stay the same (whether they be good or bad) and that a bit of patience and a lot of resilience will allow you to get through any circumstance. As my mother always reminded me when growing up “tomorrow the sun will rise again”.

Our purpose, as a brand, is to create a more open world. How we go about this is different in different parts of the world.

You were born and raised in South Africa, and now you´re living in Stockholm, Sweden. What are the biggest rewards when pursuing an international career?

– I genuinely believe that you get a chance to challenge your own perceptions … about everything. About who you are, about other people, other cultures and even about where you come from. It gives you a perspective that is invaluable. We have learned to love living in Sweden, because we have found a way to adapt to the culture and a very different climate. It’s efficient and things work well. In some ways, it’s not too different from living in South Africa and in many ways it’s totally different. But it’s a place that we are trying to make feel like home.

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?

– Just to be open and curious about other people and to make an effort to reach out to others. This principle fits very nicely with the Absolut brand values of inclusivity. I keep reminding myself that consumers are more than that – they are real human beings.  Brothers, sisters, parents … so much more than just numbers on a page. I’m genuinely fascinated by what makes people tick and where they come from, which is a great driver to making new friends.

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

– As a kid, I thought I was going to be an astronaut. My vision was to do a PHD in aeronautical engineering and then go to the US to join NASA. But I’ve always had a desire to make an impact in some way and this was imbedded in me from a young age.

A digital path to perfection

Emil Svärdh, Automation Engineer at The Absolut Company.

Achieving high set goals require a great ability to translate vision into practice. And when The Absolut Company’s ambitious sustainability goals are to become a reality, two of the keys are to both improve and refine the machines and processes – without this affecting production. The solution is to build a digital copy of the factory in order to be able to test and analyze changes virtually. We had a short chat with automation engineer Emil Svärdh about what he actually does at work every day and why it is so important.

Your title is Senior Automation Engineer. What does that mean?

That is a good question. The simple answer is that I work with our journey to become autonomous – that is, with the digitalisation of our production. I don’t really work with our machines, but more with information flow to and from the machines. Primarily by building a digital replica of our physical flows. In this way, it is easier to see and analyze what is happening in production in order to then be able to make changes and improvements in the real machines. In other words, I sit in front of a computer and set up an architecture of which systems and data points to include, which system should own which data point and how they can be orchestrated internally to business systems or manufacturing systems. It sounds a bit abstract, but when I can show what a change means, it usually clears up. The data we extract shall be used to support our decision making and continuous improvements.

The data we extract shall be used to support our decision making and continuous improvements

What are the benefits of automation?

Our production philosophy includes that we are One source – that we come from and are manufactured in one place. This allows us to look at the entire flow of production and thus be very agile in finding new ways to refine and improve our processes. Both when it comes to manufacturing and waste management. Making a Litre Absolut Vodka is a simple thing, but if you change something only a little bit in the manufacturing process, it will generate a new digital path that needs to be controlled before the product can be manufactured. And that’s my job.

How far has TAC come in the development of digitalisation?

We are extremely far ahead in an automation perspective. It also means that we have an easier journey than many others. We have got off to a good start thanks to the fact that we have new machines and financial means – but also because we have a management that is interested in us making this journey and an organization that can and wants to be a part of it.

The Absolut factory located in Åhus in south of Sweden.

How do you work with AI and Machine Learning when it comes to automation?

AI and Machine Learning is really an upcoming project for us. Today, it is most introduced through predictive maintenance of components in the machines. When it comes to bottling, we are in the starting blocks, but in order for it to be fully implemented, we must first know exactly what we produce and how we produce it from a digital point of view. We are building up that knowledge base right now and when we have all the facts, we can apply AI and machine learning fully. An example of this is how we work with our glass. It is a living material, so that makes it a perfect starting point for applying machine learning in order to be able to avoid sorting out glass that is not incorrect, although the reflection may look like that to the vision system we have. Here, the operator is a key player for us building a reference model of what is a good versus scrap. It takes time to gather all the knowledge, but once it is done, it will definitely impact the production.

AI and Machine Learning is really an upcoming project for us

What other industries are leading this development?

I would say that the car industry is the one that has come the furthest. Another player is Swedish ball bearing manufacturer SKF. There is a big difference compared to our business though – these industries have an aftermarket that must be taken into account, which is not the case for us. On the other hand, we want to adopt the same basic idea, that is, that we do not just make a product, hence the product itself is a variety of components and operations to be performed. If we think like that, it will be easier to break down our processes and find a digital path to the end product that is flexible. Once we get there, we can also more easily make the changes and improvements needed to reach our goals.

How does your work help TAC to achieve its high sustainability goals?

It is about choosing which initiatives to support. To choose the right one, one must first know what the actual reality looks like and then find the best way to be able to control it. That’s very important. My job is also very much about building on our transparency canvas, that is, how we work and what it generates. The result can then be shown to our customers and also be used for improving our work.

What is your vision for production in Åhus in the long term?

To be a “One button shop”. That we should have a ready-made path for all our products – regardless of whether we want to manufacture one or 100,000 units. We must be even more agile to make changes that take the products we produce to market as fast as possible. It is a journey we are in the middle of and I am completely convinced that when we are at the finish line, it will benefit both us as a company and our consumers.

Protecting the business

Lars Ljungholm, VP General Counsel at The Absolut Company. Photo by Elisabeth Toll.

Safeguarding a 50 billion SEK investment might be considered a heavy workload. But for Lars Ljungholm, VP General Counsel, and his team at The Absolut Company, it’s just another day at the office. It’s his job to make sure things are played by the book on all markets where The Absolut Company is present and to ensure that all the brands and products in the portfolio are kept out of harm’s way. Everyday. 

Often, great values can be found in developing and protecting intellectual property rights – such as trademarks. How important is the legal work in this value creation? 

– When it comes to protecting our trademarks and other well-known elements – such as the shape of the Absolut bottle – I’d say that our legal work is incredibly important. I remember when I had just gotten this job and met one of the top managers at Pernod-Ricard for the first time, he said ‘Lars, you know that in my opinion you have the second most important job in this company.’ By that he meant that it’s my job to help protect and safeguard their entire 50 billion SEK investment. Another aspect, which is perhaps a little more hands-on, is that we must make sure to protect our brands and our products against trademark infringement and copycats. That is where all our credibility and trust from our consumers lies, so we act on everything we consider to be an infringement of our intellectual property rights. Most of my budget is actually spent on protecting our brands in various ways.

Most of my budget is actually spent on protecting our brands in various ways

How often do you come across cases where you have to take action against trademark infringement of Absolut? 

– Against the portfolio, i.e., all our different brands, we constantly have about 400 infringement and opposition cases globally that we act on. We monitor all the markets we are present in and we keep a close watch on look-a-likes and other intellectual property infringements. Thankfully, those we encounter are to most extent unintentional and there’s often simple and unfortunate mistakes behind the infringement. Usually, they are small players and we try not to ruin their lives. So, a lot of time is spent resolving cases through conversations.

What is your most memorable case? 

– When it comes to misleading products, we always act resolutely. This needs to be done several times a year, so I’ve a couple of cases that I can pick and choose from. One odd example involved a producer in New York who had a hard time understanding how in the world we could consider it to be a problem that they launched a product called Kafhua – with the same look and flavor as our product Kahlúa. Despite many attempts on our side to explain the situation and its implications, they really didn’t give up their claim. So, unfortunately, we had to take them all the way to court – which ended up costing them substantially more than if they’d only listened immediately. But they really didn’t want to comprehend the fact that that they couldn’t sell a product that was basically a direct copy.

Bildtext: Kahlúa campaign from 2019. 

Marketing today is increasingly being done through collaborations with influencers. How does this affect your legal work? 

– It affects us more than you might think. Some 10 years ago, I did not think that my team would sit and scroll through a lot of Instagram accounts during working hours. But now they do! We have to be very careful with how and who we collaborate with and therefore we always go through the history of all proposed influencers to make sure that there is nothing problematic for us in their previous posts. This is super important because we have a number of industry codes that we have committed to follow: i.e., no marketing towards minors, we should always promote responsible drinking and we should show good ethical considerations. And this can be especially problematic when it comes to collaborations with influencers, where a too big part of their followers may be too young. Then we have to decline. We always extract data from Instagram to see what their followers look like. In addition, of course, we also sign agreements where influencers undertake not to publish content that is in violation of the codes we abide to.

One odd example involved a producer in New York who had a hard time understanding how in the world we could consider it to be a problem that they launched a product called Kafhua

Influencer marketing is more cross-border than traditional advertising. How do you legally take into account different rules and regulations in different markets for the same type of content? 

– Firstly, we never direct any type of marketing initiatives or advertising towards markets where alcohol advertising is prohibited. Nor if a type of alcohol advertising violates any local rules. I would also say that we have a very good knowledge of the rules that apply in our 30 top markets. 

You are also responsible for global brands such as Malibu and Kahlúa. How do you conduct that work from Stockholm?  

– I don’t think our work looks any different compared to what we do for Absolut Vodka. Each brand has its own profile and for Absolut Vodka, the Swedish origin is important. But for the legal team, there is no difference. We don’t work exclusively with Swedish law. In fact, the Swedish market only accounts for around one percent of our total sales, so Sweden is not even our main focus. As a company we are Swedish, so certain corporate law, manufacturing regulations and agreements with other Swedish entities are subject to Swedish law, but our global role means that we must have a good understanding of what the legislation looks like around the world. Alcohol is also a very regulated business in many countries, which means that we must be careful about how and where we speak about our products. We have all that competence within my great team here in Stockholm or via our sister companies around the world.

What values do you think Absolut creates? 

– I think Absolut stands for very good values when it comes to inclusion. We are pro LGBTQ and we’re against discrimination. We have healthy and good values within the company that are easy to appreciate as a Swede. We are not political, but human values are treasured. I also think that we are at the forefront when it comes to sustainability and I genuinely think that we have a very healthy and good corporate culture.

Bildtext: Lars Ljungholm, VP General Counsel at The Absolut Company.

Pernod Ricard has a very ambitious sustainability agenda. How well can brands and companies communicate with consumers what they’re actually doing? What governs which claims that can be made? 

– In market law, there is a strong focus on different types of green claims and sustainability claims. Much of the legislation is about not misleading the consumers. For example, if you take a certain type of data and take it out of context, you can’t really use it. And it is therefore important to always have a 360 degree perspective on any environmental claims in advertising. The important thing is that consumers aren’t being misled into believing that we do more or stand out more than we actually do. So, you sometimes have to ask yourself questions about how much our consumers actually understands from the data points we’ve extract and use to back our claims with? Can they make relevant comparisons? This is complicated and we must be transparent about how things really look like and, above all, avoid exaggerated statements that cannot be fully substantiated.

I think Absolut stands for very good values when it comes to inclusion. We are pro LGBTQ and we’re against discrimination.

As head of the legal department, you sometimes have to act as the last gatekeeper for whether an idea can, may or should be realized. What’s your view on this – do you occasionally feel like a party crasher? 

– I hate that feeling. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s usually because we’ve become involved too late in the process. The work has, so to speak, already derailed. If we instead are invited to take part early in the process, we can act as partner for both the creative and business side. Then it is easier to be solution-oriented and come up with opportunities instead of rising obstacles. But one must also remember that legal is a compliance function. So, don’t kill the messenger. We don’t invent the regulations, but we are aware of them and what restrictions they impose. That’s why you sometimes have to dare to simply say no. If there is a “moose on the table”, it is often our job to call it out.

Abiding to the law feels, perhaps somewhat prejudiced, like a mindset where tradition weighs stronger than the need for change. If so, what is your interpretation of Passion for Progression? 

– To me, Passion for Progressions is primarily about supporting the company in developing. I spend a lot of my team’s resources on campaigns and product development. We are constantly trying to stay one step ahead and try to capture regulatory changes and flag for the business when new opportunities arise.

Abiding to the law feels, perhaps somewhat prejudiced, like a Which values are important to you in your leadership? 

– Personally, it is very important that I always can be myself in any situation. I don’t wear a leadership suit that I put on for work. I want to be perceived as direct and honest but also accessible and responsive. I am there for my team and for the company 24/7 if needed. For me, leadership is about the word counsel = advisor – in the title legal counsel. The legal function has an incredible overview of almost everything that happens within the company. Therefore, it is sometimes a good idea to take off the legal hat and just be a general advisor and sounding board, also on topics outside our functional expertise.

I sometimes compare my job to that of a fire marshal

How has the ongoing pandemic affected your work? 

– In a couple of ways. As of now, almost a year into the pandemic, I’ve more or less learned to master all types of digital meetings. At first, I actually didn’t think it’d work as well as it does. But I also think that my efficiency has been affected a lot. There’s, for obvious reasons, fewer 5-minute ad-hoc discussions in the office and more booked 30-minute meetings back-to-back, which means that I usually sit in front of my screen for a good portion of the day. It has also prolonged my working days, meaning I’m putting in more hours now than I did before.

What are you passionate about at work? 

– I sometimes compare my job to that of a fire marshal. The main part of our work is about carrying out inspections in order to identify and prevent the risk of fires – probably about 90% of our time is spent on efforts to reduce such risk – but the fire fighter and I probably have the thing in common that we both enjoy our professions the most, when the fire alarm starts, despite all of our precautions, and we need to gather our team and lead the work to put out the fire. That’s when the work is most intense, challenging and competitive. It is not the actual conflict in itself that attracts me, but rather the full focus I experience when I feel that what I’m working on is very important to me, to my team and to the company. I am good at crisis management and I find it stimulating. Of course, I can be happy about corporate profits or getting positive feedback, but winning a legal case is what I really find rewarding.

And outside of work? 

– For me, it is to have social interactions. With family and with friends. It can be very unpretentious or super formal. You name it. I just love to hang out with people. At sea, on the golf course or in the ski slopes, or perhaps preferably at the associated spontaneous wine lunches.

Backtrack your tracks

Jessi Baker, Founder and CEO Provenance.

Blockchain is more than a goldrush for bitcoin-miners; it’s an efficient tool for tracing your tracks in a secure and reliable way. That’s why it can be so useful for brands that need to keep a close watch on their ingredients’ trail. At The Absolut Company we’ve enrolled Jessi Baker, founder and CEO of Provenance, to learn more. We had a chat with her on the benefits of using blockchain as a means of improving and proving your transparency and traceability.

Firstly, for all the newbies out there: What is blockchain in its most basic parts?

– Most people associate blockchain with bitcoin. And that is one way of utilizing it, but it can be so much more. Blockchain is in many ways how the internet was envisioned at the beginning – a decentralized network – before a few powerful companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon made it a lot more centralized. So, I believe, what a blockchain has the potential to do is put the power of the web into hands of the many, rather than at the will of a few. It’s a way of collaborating across the web without centralized control points. Bitcoin is a good example as it is such a contrast to traditional banking. It’s a currency run with a decentralized system that’s user controlled. 

Our goal is to help brands be more transparent when it comes to the impact of their products

Tell me a bit more about Provenance and your vision for the company?

– Blockchain is only a fraction of what we do. We’re a social enterprise that’s mission driven. Our goal is to help brands be more transparent when it comes to the impact of their products. That can be to put stickers highlighting your carbon footprint on the back of the bottles or telling the world about what impact your product has on you, people or planet. You might think that’s kind of a hard sell, but it actually isn’t anymore. We’ve got both governmental regulations and consumer demands on our side, so it’s not a crazy idea anymore. Provenance wants to set a standard by using comprehensive data and a clear methodology that enables easy comparisons through verified sources. We translate data into consumer knowledge and demands on different areas of impact; for example carbon footprints, protection of the oceans or assurance of quality or waste reduction. Transparency needs to be communicated in a consistent, comprehensive and credible way. Provenance helps verify claims and when that’s done, we issue a Proof Point – a kind of badge that says a certain claim made by a brand is proven and verified. We also work with verifiers that are trustworthy and all the links in the blockchain are fully visible.

Are there any potential negative aspects or limitations of this technology?

– Of course. For one, lots of things are still under development. There’s a lack of standards, a lack of UX-designers and business developers – due to the technology having a high threshold for understanding. But the biggest challenge to overcome is that we currently live in a world governed by an oligopoly of information owners.

Jessi Baker, founder and CEO Provenance.

Can you tell me more about how Provenance and The Absolut Company are teaming up around challenges related to supply chains? 

– We’re involved in a pilot project with one of their brands; where we helped them have a look at how they could be more transparent on their impact on the world. There are a lot of pitfalls and we’ve helped them discover the traces they leave behind and how to be as transparent as they possibly can. For them, it’s a way of being more credible and more open. It’s also about showing how they’re making progress. 

What kind of outcomes do you foresee?

– I think there is a strong, brand-building case to be made for showing new Proof Points around your supply chain. New information can, for instance, be updated annually to build trust behind the brand claims. In short, it’s a great case of how you can show and share your impact with consumers – who are ultimately the ones making decisions. 

First impressions last

Stéphanie Durroux, the new CEO of The Absolut Company since August 2020.

It has now been three months since Stéphanie Durroux took over as CEO for The Absolut Company. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about her international background, motivations and experience of the Swedish local food and beverage industry – which she is now such an important part of.

The Absolut Company has the motto Passion for Progression, which sort of acts as a halo for fostering and retaining an innovative company culture. What’s your take on this?

– I think that our Passion for Progression-value rings very true. I was amazed when I realize how important this actually is for everyone working here. Progression is about what we do – developing new products, refining new tastes and conceptualizing new formats. But it is also very much about how we do that. To me, innovation is as much about how you do things as what you do. Take our sustainability work as an example: Our Åhus plant is one of the best in the world when it comes to sustainability. And this is all due to us – as a company – being super innovative and working with the entire value chain to ensure consistency in all aspects of our production and distribution. There is so much effort going into designing processes that minimize the amount of waste produced. And I think that we’ve been able to reach this position because this has been a priority of ours for so many years. To me, this is just another proof of the kind of innovative spirit that’s found within the company. Before I started here, I thought some of the claims were just on the surface, but now I know we have all the hard facts to back our claims.

What’s your background before joining The Absolut Company?

– I started my career in a totally different business, working with marketing for Hachette Publications in France, where I was part of the book division. My dream was always to work with marketing for a company in the cultural sector. Books and movies were, and still are, two of my greatest passions. From there I moved on to Michelin Travel Publications. When I applied for the job there, I thought it was to do marketing for their printed maps, food & travel guides, but it turned out the position was for the digital side of their business.

My dream was always to work with marketing for a company in the cultural sector

This was back in 1999 and you have to remember that the online business models were quite different then compared to now. We worked really hard to come up with new ways to adapt the content to the digital world, which was a challenge. Google maps didn’t exist, smartphones weren’t actually that smart and people were still relying on printed maps when travelling by car. And I just loved the challenge and the reward it brought when we found new solutions on how to get people to convert. So, I stayed there for five years before moving to China with my family. And that’s when I first joined Pernod Ricard and that I have been a part of ever since.

You’ve had quite a long international career, having – as you mentioned – been posted in China and in Paris previously. And now you’re based here in Stockholm since a few years: what has been the most fun and challenging in your career so far?

You’ve had quite a long international career, having – as you mentioned – been posted in China and in Paris previously. And now you’re based here in Stockholm since a few years: what has been the most fun and challenging in your career so far?

– When I moved to China with my husband, who got a job there, I immediately started to look for a job. I had the chance to get an initial short-term marketing mission at Pernod Ricard in China. This was my first time in the spirits business and just from the start, I was super fascinated by how much of the marketing of alcohol has to do with sociology and culture. Usage and attitudes towards alcohol are very different in China and in France, of course. Food and drinks are such an important part of our respective cultures – not only what you eat and drink, but also the way to do it, and the meaning behind theses traditions. In China, what you buy offers you a possibility to express something about yourself to a much greater extent than in France – at least when it comes to Western spirits. And to get into this mindset and understand this culture was a bit of a challenge for me at the beginning.

What’s most important to you in your job?

– To find a true meaning every day. And by that, I don’t mean a new one every day. But I think that you have to go to work every day knowing what you do and why you do it. We’re here to develop the company and the brands in our portfolio, but the responsibility we put behind this work is almost idealistic. And that’s important to me. Being part of The Absolut Company, as an example, to me also means that I’m part of something that is bigger than just me. And this makes me proud of what I do. Without that, I wouldn’t feel as motivated. 

Our Åhus plant is one of the best in the world when it comes to sustainability

At The Absolut Company, a lot of effort is put into elevating and supporting the Swedish food sector as a whole. What’s your outside perspective on the current status of the Swedish cuisine?

– I honestly have to say that I very much like the Swedish culinary scene. All-together, living in Sweden has so far been nothing but a great experience. And, believe it or not, I actually still haven’t had any really bad food experiences. I’m a bit surprised about the high level of Swedish chefs and food and I’ve had many great food experiences. I’m not an outspoken vegetarian, but I don’t have a big taste for meat. Sweden is a country with fantastic restaurants with amazing vegetarian options. There is being made some true effort to serve decent food that’s meat free. 

What has been the most challenging dish you’ve been served here in Sweden? Is it something from our own unique flavor palate, such as fermented herring (surströmming), licorice, caviar or kebabpizza?

– Neither of the above actually. I honestly have to say that I like Swedish “kaviar”, it’s great. I even have some at home. The same goes for licorice. It’s also found in France, mainly in sweets, but I recognize the taste and I like it. I have also started to discover excellent Swedish cheeses. I can’t comment on surströmming. It isn’t something I’ve dared to try yet, but it’s on my list. Perhaps not at the top, though.

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.  

It’s a huge gap between generations, where creativity means different things to different people

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

The newer generations are looking for organizations or brands that have values that are the same as their own

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.

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.

The whole idea was to use art in as a way of creating a better future

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.

The paint used is called Airlite and it’s a kind of organic paint that actually absorbs pollution

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.