Now, due to the current situation, there is even more room, especially for "Vodka from Finland". The EU's GI-label (Geographical Indication), which is well recognized and valued by the Swiss customers, could be an additional quality label for authentic products from Finland.
Switzerland imports spirits in the value of approximately 200 million Euro per year, but the share of Finnish spirits has been very low. During the last years, the export of Finnish spirits to Switzerland has slightly increased to 150 000 Euro per year in 2020, however, Finland's share of the total spirits imports was only 0.07%, while Sweden's share was 3.5% and the share of the EU was 60%.
We decided to team up Business Finland's Food from Finland program with Team Finland coordinator and the network available at the Finnish Embassy in Bern.
One of our observations was that the Swiss retail business relies on a network of specialized importers, which source the spirits and take care of import formalities and logistics. Without being listed at a Swiss importing wholesaler, there is almost no chance that any Swiss spirits shop would sell those spirits. Therefore, the first task to take was to search and set-up a network of importing wholesalers. It was not easy to convince the importers in Switzerland to take new Finnish products into their assortment as the Covid-19 pandemic had dropped their sales to HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants, and Catering) channel dramatically.
Many shop visits and discussions with experts were needed, until about half a dozen importers were convinced to start business with new Finnish spirit brands.
Within one year, these new partners increased their choice of Finnish gin, vodka, whiskey, aquavit and liqueurs to several dozen products. At the same time, importers also showed demand for special Finnish craft beer products, and new contacts to various Finnish craft beer producers were established.
After setting-up the network of importers, the next task was to get the bottles to shops, bars and restaurants. In order to attract the professional buyers of supermarkets, specialized spirit shops, food & beverage managers of hotels, restaurants and bars, local wholesalers and food scouts, a tasting event was organized in September 2021 with more than 10 Finnish producers of spirits, wine and beer, which presented their products to over 50 local guests.
During the event, various new business relations between producers, importers and buyers were established. Furthermore, some Finnish alcohol producers have also activated their own operations in Switzerland, and as a result, the Finnish alcohol exports to Switzerland more than doubled to approximately 300 000 Euro in 2021.
The Finnish spirit brands now available on the Swiss market include Arctic Blue Beverages, Heidell, Helsinki Distilling Company, Kalevala Distillery, Koskenkorva, Kyrö Distillery, Lignell & Piispanen, Minttu, Nagu Gin, Pyynikin Distilling Company, Shaman Spirits; Tenu Gin, Tom of Finland, Tornion Panimo, Valhalla and Valamo Beverages.
New Craft Beer brands from Finland sold in Switzerland are Coolhead Brew, Iso-Kallan Panimo, Kukko Beer, Olaf Brewing and Tornion Panimo.
Due to the recent attack of Russia to Ukraine, most of the Swiss retailers have dropped Russian vodka out of their shelves. Now it is even more important to distinguish the origin of vodka. Here is an example: since 1994, "Vodka from Finland" is registered with the file number PGI-FI-02040 in the EU's geographical indications register, which allows using the well-known golden-blue EU "Protected Geographical Indication" label. This label is well known and valued in Switzerland, and Swiss importers suggest using this label to prove the origin and authentic quality.
In conclusion, entering a new, almost saturated market with a new product from Finland is challenging, but not impossible. The recipe for success includes best quality products, a good cooperation with the export-promoting agency (Business Finland), local support (Team Finland/Embassy of Finland) as well as systematic work and good contacts on the local market.