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Alas I have left The Moodie Report’s temporary Eckernförde bureau behind, after a fascinating (and far too fleeting) few days in this lovely part of Schleswig-Holstein on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast.
Schleswig and Holstein have at different times belonged in part or wholly to either Denmark or Germany and a convergence of a very different kind in terms of Danish and German interests was the reason for my visit.
In April this year, Eckernförde-based Behn Group acquired Danzka vodka from French company Belvédère (no relation to the LVMH-run Polish vodka brand of the same name), the largest acquisition in the German company’s proud 121-year history.
Founded in Denmark in 1989 by serial entrepreneur Thomas Anthon and famed for its aluminium cocktail shaker presentation, Danzka had subsequently fallen (sometimes literally) under the ownership of Danske Spritfabrikker (Danish Distillers), Vin&Sprit (then owners of Absolut vodka) and Belvédère.
Things have now changed. Underlining his company’s long-term view of business, Rüdiger Behn, Managing Director of Behn’s liquor division, Waldemar Behn, said with a nicely phrased sense of destiny at the time of the acquisition: “Danzka’s long journey has now come to an end. Danzka is going to be one of our main assets – even in the next, the fifth generation in our company.”
Danzka has been a major success in duty free and travel retail. Last year the channel represented roughly three-quarters of the brand’s total depletions of around 180,000 cases. With stable ownership (and they don’t come much more stable than a family-owned company that has been around since 1892), that volume could go a whole lot higher in coming years.
Danzka wasn’t the only acquisition Behn made. It also took on the man that Rüdiger Behn affectionately refers to as “Mr Danzka” – a certain Torben Vedel Andersen, a fantastic fellow who ranks simultaneously as one of the industry’s most respected and popular executives.
[Left to right: Rüdiger Behn, ‘Mr Danzka’ Torben Vedel Andersen and Philippe Biais]
Torben lives, breathes and sleeps Danzka; he’s an old-fashioned brand purist who believes not only in his product but in the importance of quality relationships in business. Having spent a couple of hugely enjoyable days finding out what makes Behn tick, I think he – and Danzka – have found the perfect home.
I chatted at length with Rüdiger, Torben and Behn Export Director Philippe Biais and discovered much, not just about the aspirations for Danzka but about the company’s philosophy and its surprisingly diverse and highly innovative portfolio of brands. You can read all about it in the Cannes issue of The Moodie Report Print Edition, out in October, the first in a new series we’re unveiling called ‘Family Values’, which champions the diminishing breed of family-owned companies left in our industry.
Waldermar Behn has just adopted a new tag line – ‘World of Unique Brands’ – which certainly holds true. They don’t come much more unique than Kleiner Feigling (below), a quirky fig-flavoured vodka launched in 1992 which became a huge national and international success, generating sales of over one million cases.
The name translates literally as Little Coward and is a pun on the words feige (cowardly) and Feige (fig), which are pronounced identically in German. Much of it is consumed in 20ml shooter-sized bottles featuring two distinctively startled eyes on the front label. Since its original stunning success, the brand has been extended to a whole range of wacky flavours including peanut chips and American popcorn.
In 2000 Behn launched the first toffee-flavoured cream liqueur, Dooley’s, with impressive success – the first vodka-based brand in the cream liqueur segment. Several line extensions have since been added and Rüdiger Behn and Philippe Biais promise plenty of exciting developments ahead. Watch this space.
Then there’s what I consider to be one of the most startlingly distinctive and attractive new launches of recent times, Figenza, an ultra-premium, 30%abv strength fig-flavoured vodka. Just take a look at the packaging and you might concur with me that it could offer a real point of difference even among the sea of vodkas, original and flavoured, that threaten to swamp most airport duty free stores.
The juice is good too – a lovely delicate apricotish nose softening the original grappa-like top note. Talking of top notes, there’s more than a hint of the fragrance industry here, notably in an exquisite gift box (below) containing a 50ml miniature. It will be interesting to see if the brand, which has been launched in the on-trade in New York and New Jersey with encouraging early success, can break through in duty free.
And what of Danzka? Let’s just say that Waldemar Behn has big plans. “Danzka is a real asset to our assortment, fully in line with our belief in unique brands,” Rüdiger Behn told me. “We’re very happy to have been able to employ ‘Mr Danzka’ and we are a strong believer in the huge potential of the brand. We know we are fighting against a huge amount of competition – it seems like a new vodka brand is launched every day – but our brand is quite different to all the others and of course we will focus on the duty free market.”
You’ll have to wait to October to read the full story but as I sit here late at night writing while nosing and sipping the quite wonderfully aromatic Figenza, I can promise you the wait will be worthwhile. This is family spirit in every sense.