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Drastic makeover

A few years ago, Åbro Bryggeri in Vimmerby, Sweden’s oldest privately owned brewery, achieved a stunning turnaround by drastically revamping both its product range and its distribution channels, and introducing new forms of packaging, thus saving the company from imminent bankruptcy and getting it back on course for becoming a flourishing model brewery with an output of one million hectolitres. Their primary lifeline was the premiering of “Rekorderlig” cider, which met with keen interest all over the world. In the meantime, Åbro possesses state-of-the-art filling kit, in the shape of a new canning line and a recently installed non-returnable-glass line, both of them supplied by Krones.

Prize-winning beer qualities

“Rekorderlig” is meanwhile available in 17 different flavours, from normal apple cider all the way through to orange-ginger or strawberry-lime flavours, with abv levels of 4.0 to 4.5 per cent. This cider, brewed to an old Swedish household recipe and with a lovingly drawn home-made label, is advertised in the media in hypermodern, youthful style featuring protagonists like surfers and snow-boarders.

At the same time as it boosted its cider Åbro also invested in the quality and diversity of its beers. “We’ve changed the character of our beers”, explains Senior Brewmaster Lennarth Anemyr. “In the brewing process, for example, we’re now also using decoction again, in addition to the infusion mashing process. We’re brewing lager in line with the German, Bavarian and Czech models, generally trying to create interesting beers and always prioritising their digestible quaffability.”

The firm’s commitment to its beers’ quality has repeatedly been rewarded by international prizes, most recently by the most prestigious award around, as a champion beer in the lager category for Bryggmasterens Premium Gold during the beer test of the International Brewing Awards 2013. Åbro is also prioritising quality when it comes to beer imports. Just under 40 of the world’s brands can be found on the list of beers imported by Åbro, from the Belgian Duvel to the German Weihenstephaner. In the brewery’s own taproom, you will find as many as 101 different beers to choose from: live and let live. Åbro itself is meanwhile brewing around 20 different beers.


Pippi Longstocking and Emil from Lönneberga

Obstinacy, stubbornness, and thriftiness bordering on penny-pinching, these are the qualities that the inhabitants of southern Sweden’s province of Småland, where the Åbro Brewery has its home, allegedly possess in abundance.

The founder of IKEA, for example, the multi-billionaire Ingvar Kamprad, who is most definitely famous for his thriftiness, was born in Småland. To be more precise, it’s the small town of Vimmerby, where the brewery was founded back in 1856 and taken over by the great-grandfather of today’s proprietor family Dunge in 1889. This makes it Sweden’s oldest family-owned brewery.

At the mention of Vimmerby, it’s not only Åbro-beer aficionados who go into raptures, but also all friends of Pippi Longstocking, Emil from Lönneberga, Kalle Blomquist or the Children of Noisy Village. You see, the intellectual progenitrix who created all of these characters, Astrid Lindgren, was born here in 1907, and spent the first few years of her childhood in Vimmerby.

Canning line from Krones as the first complete line

Since Åbro’s portfolio and sales structure had undergone a fundamental change, this also, of course, entailed concomitant changes in the filling operations. In 2000, Åbro had four lines: one each for glass, PET, cans and kegs. At that time, the proportion of the output filled in glass was still about 60 per cent. As the lemonade range was abandoned almost entirely, the PET line was shut down and sold, with beer and cider filled only in cans, glass and kegs from then on. In 2007, Åbro installed a PET line once more – an investment that turned out to be a mistake. Two years later, it was sold again, after it had been running for no more than 200 operating hours. “It’s better to swiftly remedy a mistake once made than to keep on complaining about it for years”, says Mats Sköldestig. “After that, we knew for sure that we wouldn’t be investing again until the requisite demand was definite reality, not a mere speculation.”

This was the case in 2010. In addition to its older canning line, Åbro installed a complete one from Krones rated at 70,000 cans an hour, for filling beer and cider into 330- and 500-millilitre cans. This was at the same time the first complete single-sourced line that Åbro had ever bought. In 2011, Åbro channelled some more capital expenditure into its operations, this time buying a combined glass line able to handle both returnables and non-returnables and rated at 45,000 bottles an hour, comprising machines from different manufacturers. This same year also saw the big international breakthrough of “Rekorderlig”, most especially in the UK. And the money simultaneously invested in Swedish restaurants and pubs then necessitated the replacement of the old with a new kegging line just one year later. By then, the total share of canned beer and cider had risen to 60 to 70 per cent.

“What we wanted was the perfect design.”

But as cider exports kept on growing and growing, the glass bottling operations soon reached their limits once again. Åbro accordingly decided to erect a completely new filling and storage hall with a footprint of 8,000 square metres as an adjunct to the brewery building and to install a second glass line there. This time round, the family-run brewery opted for a complete line once more, and from Krones yet again. “Competition for this line was fierce but what was in the focus of interest here was not so much the price”, says Mats Sköldestig in retrospective clarification. “No, it was rather the overall solutional concept that won us over. What we wanted was the perfect design, and this is was what we ultimately got from Krones. For example: the original plan had been to incorporate a tunnel pasteuriser, now we can use an existing flash pasteuriser for all our beers. The option for warm-filling of cider (at about 18 to 19 degrees Celsius) means we can dispense with a warmer upstream of the labeller. And Krones responsively tailored the layout to our ideas of spatial line integration into what was now a combined bottling and storage hall.”

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