Koprivnica-Made Somersby Finds Popularity on Five Continents

Lauren Simmonds

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As Poslovni Dnevnik/Sergej Novosel Vuckovic writes, the Danish-owned Carlsberg Croatia Brewery, in addition to a wide range of its basic beer products also offers cider, a relatively new addition to the Croatian drinks scene, which is made from diluted fruit wine and based on apple juice.

This type of drink has been very popular in recent years in Croatia, despite having always been popular in Northern European countries such as the United Kingdom, and Carlsberg’s cider brand Somersby is the leader on the Croatian market. It is produced in several flavours in the company’s brewery in Koprivnica and from there it goes all over the world.

Koprivnica-made Somersby is enjoyed from distant Australia to Asia, and Marcin Burdach, President of the Management Board of Carlsberg Croatia, has been talking about the cider category, Croatian production, consumer trends as well as, of course, the beer market and expectations for the upcoming season.

You recently boasted that Somersby, produced in Koprivnica, is exported to 20 countries on 5 continents. What are the main markets?

Yes, you’re right, we definitely did brag about it! We believe that consumers generally don’t know that we produce Somersby in Koprivnica and export it. For us, it’s a great source of pride. We’ve exported Koprivnica-made Somersby to different continents and countries around the world, and we don’t talk about it much. Back in 2020, Carlsberg Croatia regularly exported Somersby to eighteen markets.

As such, Koprivnica-made Somersby travelled to Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel, Austria, Tahiti, Taiwan, the Bahamas… However, it should be noted that this list is only relevant for last year – the list of countries to which Somersby has travelled from Croatia in recent years is much longer and includes Australia, the United States, the Congo, China, the Caribbean, Laos and many other places.

Isn’t that impressive and something to brag about? Our main export markets are Hungary and Germany and I think the fact that we export so much to Germany is a clear sign of quality, because everyone knows how crucial quality is in the German market.

How much Somersby was produced in the factory in Croatia last year? Have sales figures gone up?

Although we’re still unable to release the full data for last year because the financial report hasn’t yet been released, we can say that Somersby’s exports are increasing every year. If you want a picture of our exports, I can tell you that last year we exported 867 trucks of Somersby in bottles and more than 200 tanks of it. And yes, export numbers are better for 2020 than they were for 2019.

You’ve decided to further strengthen the visual of this drink with Croatian characteristics, why is that so?

We made a limited edition of the ”Croatian” logo Somersby because we wanted to send the message that Somersby is not only a global, but also a local Croatian brand. Yes, the cans on our market are produced elsewhere, but we don’t produce Somersby in bottles only for Croatia, that Koprivnica-made Somersby goes all over the world.

This is the merit of the Croatian mind and hardworking people in Croatia, who produce this drink for consumers around the world. We thought it would be easiest to convey that message visually and the feedback from consumers and our business partners about that has been great.

Your predecessor at the helm of Carlsberg Croatia told me that you would like to make Somersby from home-grown raw materials (apples), but that apple juice producers in the Republic of Croatia produce cloudy juice, and you need it to be clear. You’ve also expressed a desire for that to come to fruition, what does that happening depend on?

This is a logical question that always arises when we talk about the production of Somersby in Croatia – the question of the use of locally grown apples. The thing is that for the production of cider we need high quality apple juice which has certain characteristics, which allows us to produce apple wine.

Every time they ask us this question ”do you want to get those apples in Croatia” the answer is simple – yes, we would like to get them from Croatia. But if there are no manufacturers who produce this product, it is simply not possible.

The first association to cider for Croats is Somersby, a recent Ipsos survey showed. Some respondents, as I’ve since foundd out, stated that this drink is more for younger people, they also said that the unit price in stores and bars is still too high. What actually is the target audience of Somersby cider in Croatia, and why is it more expensive than, for example, beer?

The truth is that Somersby is considered more of a drink for a younger audience, and its optimistic because consumers think of Somersby when they talk about cider. We found that consumers love the fact that we offer them a variety of flavours at Somersby, and that they consider it a refreshing summer drink.

Since Somersby is in a different price segment than beer, for example, we had feedback that consumers aren’t the happiest with Somersby’s prices in some cafes. But pricing in bars is something we can’t influence much, because it’s a matter of the owners and their business decisions.

After all, you know from personal experience that some locations in Croatia, especially those that target tourists, simply have higher prices than the average Croatian consumer considers affordable anyway.

Carlsberg is primarily a beer producer, how are things in Croatia in that regard? How much of a market share do your beer brands hold, given their wide range? How much do you produce?

Yes, beer is our main business, and it’s something that isn’t going to change, and you’re right, we offer a wide range of beers. Last year we expanded our range to Pan, to which we added Pan Pilsner, so now we offer an even better choice in our main segment of stock.

So, now we have an offer for every taste – from Golden and Lager, through Pilsner, to Pan Dark and Pan Free. And that’s just the beginning – Grimbergen, Carlsberg, Tuborg, Blanc 1664… Our portfolio of international brands provides even greater breadth to our consumers. Looking at last year’s data, we hold about 17 percent of the market and of course we want to grow that share even more.

What are your results for 2020 like? Most people’s income was limited due to the pandemic, with closed bars and bans on larger gatherings…

We’re unable to provide complete data for 2020 because the financial report hasn’t yet been published. But of course, the pandemic influenced our results.

Everyone’s lives changed in 2020 and it’s hard for me to remember an industry or sector that hasn’t been affected by that change. Certainly, our partners in the HORECA segment have been hit hard, not to mention the situation with the event industry… these segments are still suffering and of course this is affecting us. It’s hard to say when things will get better. In these circumstances, however, we’re satisfied with our results.

Of course, we planned for bigger results, but we ended 2020 without any need to stop production and we managed to protect our employees and our business, which is certainly a success.

Carlsberg Croatia employs 300 people – how did you continue to organise production and the entire business with regard to the epidemiological measures?

Now that we’ve entered the second year of the pandemic, things are already well established and we’ve adapted to these new ways of working. But yes, at first it was difficult. There was so much that was unknown about this virus… I remember at one point we had a paper quarantine because we didn’t want to endanger our colleagues who deal with export paperwork.

Then came the shortages of protective equipment – in the spring of 2020, at one point we even used Somersby’s wine base to make disinfectants, so we could protect our employees. We teamed up with a small distillery and a disinfectant manufacturer and produced quantities that allowed us to give each employee half a litre of disinfectant so they could take it home and protect their families.

We donated the rest to the City of Koprivnica. We did this because it was so hard to get that protective equipment back then, and we wanted our employees to feel safer. Now it’s all far simpler. We’re applying various safeguards and we haven’t relaxed, but now that is just another part of our health and safety rules. It’s much easier psychologically.

Did you ask for state support to preserve jobs?

No, in 2020 we didn’t use state aid, given the fact that we believed we could protect our business and that we could get help from the Carlsberg Group.

What do you expect from this year, especially from summer as the main period of consumption of your products?

We’re optimistic about 2021. We think that globally as a Group, and locally as Carlsberg Croatia, we’re strong, capable and in a good position to take advantage of opportunities. Of course, our success will depend on market trends and the development of the ongoing pandemic.

We hope that the season will be successful and that warmer weather will bring normalisation, as it did last year. I don’t think you could find a person in Croatia who isn’t looking forward to summer and I hope that people will welcome it with a cold Pan or Somersby in hand.

Carlsberg is also known for its promotion of drinking responsibly – in the workplace, while driving… How do you view the proposal for new regulations to repeal the provision on how much alcohol a driver can have in their blood?

We always promote responsible consumption. Through various programmes, and through the Association of Brewers, and within our company. In all our official vehicles, for example, we have a built-in Alcolock system.

The system is actually simple for the user, when sitting in the car it’s necessary to blow into the test until it stops giving an audible signal. After a few seconds, in case the amount of alcohol is within the allowed limits, the system allows the car to be started. In this way, we motivate our employees to live in scope of the company rule of ”zero irresponsible consumption” on a daily basis.

There are countless reasons why you shouldn’t get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol and as a brewer, we’re particularly sensitive to this topic. We believe that we need to make our employees aware of the importance of not driving at all when they drink.

When you think about what the regulation of the Labour Law is, then we don’t even need such a measure. But we believe that promoting responsible behaviour and awareness is much more powerful than just relying on regulations. This is how I look at the proposal to change the regulations you’re asking me about – yes, legal regulations are important, but I think it’s even more important to educate and influence the consciousness of individuals.

Changing the law is a relatively easy and fairly quick process, but the effect that will be achieved as a result is questionable. Changing people’s consciousness is a long-term job and a lot more effort needs to be put in there, but it is certain that positive change will happen.

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