Danish liquorice genius takes on Finland
A badminton partner was key to liquorice entrepreneur Johan Bülow’s entry into the most finicky market for the salty sweets, namely Finland. This has whet the company’s appetite for more.
Twelve years ago Johan Bülow started cooking liquorice in his mother’s kitchen on the island of Bornholm. That’s a story most Danes have heard, but few know about Johan’s badminton partner at the time, Jonas Estrup Nielsen. Funnily enough, that friendship eventually formed the basis for the company’s current success in Finland, where Jonas settled with his Finnish wife and today runs a subsidiary of Lakrids by Johan Bülow.
“Finns are convinced they have the world’s best liquorice, so breaking into the Finnish market was no easy feat. We had collaborated with various distributors, but it wasn’t until we really went all in that we were able to show Finnish consumers what Danish liquorice has to offer. That was something my old badminton partner Jonas could help us with, because he could tell the story of Lakrids and also had a lot of local insight,” explains Johan Bülow, who today serves as creative director in the steadily growing company.
Embassy partnership and pop-up shop
In addition to Bülow having found the right man for the job, two events proved decisive in the company’s efforts to enter the Finnish market.
Finns are convinced they have the world’s best liquorice, so breaking into the Finnish market was no easy feat Johan Bülow, Creative Director at Lakrids by Johan Bülow.
“We started a collaboration with the Danish embassy in Helsinki and organised a big dinner at the ambassador’s, where we had the chance to show key players in the Finnish food industry what liquorice can do in the kitchen,” says Johan Bülow, who also participated when HRH Crown Princess Mary hosted a Danish export campaign in Finland this past September.
The dinner was a breakthrough because it strengthened the local network and allowed the company to carefully select partners. Meanwhile, the event also helped give Lakrids by Johan Bülow greater insight into the demands of Finnish consumers.
“The next step was getting to know the consumers so we could better explore the potential of our products. We decided to set up a pop-up shop to learn more specifically what works in Finland,” says Johan Bülow.
Since then, Lakrids has grown by 150% in two years, and in 2017 6% of the company’s DKK 170 million revenue was generated in Finland, where one of their absolute best-performing stores is located.
Scandinavia as a springboard for exports
The company’s Scandinavian activities are an important part of its strategy for international expansion. 2018 will be the first year where the majority of revenue is no longer generated in Denmark but in export markets.
“We can see that many Danish companies that are active in Finland use the Nordic market as a springboard for expanding into the rest of the world. The Finnish market is reminiscent of the Danish market, consumers demand similar products and cooperation with Finnish companies and authorities is predictable – as is the Finnish market,” says Hanna Törmänen, commercial advisor at the Danish embassy in Helsinki.
A market with Danish opportunities
She sees many potential Finnish matches for Danish products and solutions.
“Finnish consumers like the Danish combination of high quality, good design and focus on sustainability and recycling. Moreover, there are many Danish companies supplying solutions within digitalisation, urban development, energy efficiency, mobility, health and hospital construction,” notes Hanna Törmänen.
These are fields currently undergoing great development in Finland.
The commercial advisor also believes that there is great potential for Danish businesses as sub-suppliers in Finland’s major maritime industry or through public-private partnerships in the many municipal power plants that are being converted to process biofuels rather than fossil fuels.
A different business culture
As a Dane, however, it is important to be aware of the differences in Finnish business culture.
“You need to be prepared for efficient and very direct processes where Finns focus on challenges and concerns at a very early stage rather than looking solely at the potentials. These are questions you need to be able to answer from the beginning – otherwise good collaboration opportunities will break down before they even get off the ground,” notes Hanna Törmänen.
See also: Market Focus Finland (in Danish)
If successful, however, Danish business owners can count on being invited along to the sauna and gaining very reliable and long-term partnerships.
The stability and predictability of the Finnish market is also something that Allan Sørensen, Senior Analyst at DI highlights.
“Finland’s market is growing by over 2% per year, and that increases our opportunities for exports to the Finnish market. Finland is also part of the eurozone, which helps ensure a stable currency, and combined with its being part of the EU’s single market, this makes the market situation positive and relatively predictable.”
Lakrids takes advantage of market opportunities
And Johan Bülow, who is planning on scaling up significantly in Finland, also believes that other Danish businesses could take advantage of the opportunities the Finnish market has to offer.
“Danish consumers are very focused on quality and have high standards when it comes to trends and sustainability, for instance. The Finnish consumers have similar demands, but are perhaps a few years behind. This can give Danish brands an advantage in Finland, because you can be first-movers in the market,” says Johan Bülow.
The Finnish culture is likewise an advantage, according to Johan Bülow:
“Finns are very loyal people, which means that once we’ve earned the loyalty of customers, we can count on them to choose our liquorice often.”