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Sweden's darkroast specialists.

Sweden's Darkroast Specialists

It would seem that just about everyone in southern Sweden knows Zoegas (pronounced `sway-gah', or thereabouts, in English). Certainly the people of the ancient coastal city of Helsingborg can readily point you toward the old Zoega family shop in the heart of town, with the row of magnificent coffee mills in the window looking like a trove of Viking treasure, or to the much newer roasting plant itself, on the edge of town. This is hardly surprising given that they have been drinking Zoegas coffee for more than a century, and apparently with considerable relish.

In a country renowned for its good coffee, Zoegas has its own reputation to uphold--a quality coffee in a nation of quality coffees. In particular it is the champion of an enduring darkroast tradition native to the southwest corner of Sweden. For Swedes, `darkroast' and the Zoega name go together, even though the company now offers a range of roasts and blends.

Although a member of the Nestle Group, through Svenska Nestle AB, the company remains proudly assertive as to its own character and style, which is, apparently, first and foremost that of the Zoega family itself. It all began when the Zoegas emigrated from Sweden to Brazil in 1872, to become coffee growers. A son, Carlos, returned to Sweden after nine years and organized the coffee business, which dates in Helsingborg from 1886. His granddaughter, Thelma Zoega, sold the controlling interest to Findus in 1986, but is still closely linked with the company she directed for so many years.

`Mollberg's' is the company's oldest brand name, originating in 1903 when Zoegas won a competition to supply a grand hotel of the same name with a house blend. The best-known brand, however, is Skane Roast, created by Zoegas in 1918 and its bestselling brand to this day. In fact, Skane Roast accounts for about 80% of the company's volume. This is the dark roast that is so closely associated with the company's home region (hence the name). Actually, the strength of the association with the dark roast and the region has meant that the company has until recently been strong mainly in the nation's south corner, a territorial limitation Zoegas is now beginning to overcome with the help of a new brand and the gaining national interest in darkroast coffees (by tradition, central and northern Swedes are not darkroast drinkers).

Having one of the world's highest rates of per capita coffee consumption and the money to buy some of the best green coffees might lead some to see Sweden as a carefree coffee market. This is not the case. The roasted coffee market is crowded and consumption is falling. Battles for position on such a market are necessarily fierce; Zoegas is expanding its sales and sales area, a victory in context.

During the 80's the Swedish coffee market regressed steadily, and by as much as 1% per year. Roasted coffee sales shrank from 78,700 tons in 1983 to 76,300 tons in 1988 and 75,000 tons in 1989. Retail sales came to 62,700 tons in 1989 (83% of all coffee sales), with about 12,300 tons in catering sales. Actually, catering in Sweden is a growth sector, having expanded from a 14% share of the market in 1983 to 17% in 1989. Another active area is soluble, now at 7% of total coffee sector sales; the slow rise in sales is generally attributed to gains in camping and tourism.

Zoegas does not yet operate on either catering or soluble markets, nevertheless its sales--retail, roasted coffee only--have steadily expanded; in 1952 the company sold only 900 tons, in 1986 it had sales of 6,100 tons. Sales in 1989 reached 6,650 tons. This volume gives it fifth place and 10% in the national retail standings--market leaders are General Foods with about 32% and Cirkel with about 18%.

As noted, the Zoegas specialty is high quality, darkroast blends. Although in addition to Mollberg's and Skane, the company offers two lighter-roast products, they represent quite minor volumes. However, about a year ago, in a major shift, the company launched a 100% Colombia brand with assertive, youth-oriented marketing imagery--while the Zoegas style has been one of strong but quiet elegance. This product has thus far outpaced even the company's most enthusiastic sales projections and has already replaced Mollberg's as its number-two brand.

Zoegas buys about 150,000 bags of green coffee each year, all top drawer Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Kenya, using about 10 sources per origin. Buying is on cupping approval only, landing by the same. In sum, the Zoegas program includes a minimum of six cupping rites-of-passage before the coffee reaches packaged stage. The entire handling, siloing, blending, roasting, grinding, packaging process is automated and integrated. Roasting, by natural gas only, is timed at five-and-a-half minutes, with pre-roast blending of up to eight ingredients per blend recipe. The plant produces about 35 tons daily, almost all of which is in the half-kilo `vac-pac'. The company does its own distribution, direct to retailers.

Aside from coffee, Zoegas is distributing the range of imported `London Tea' brands and a line of natural un-bleached paper coffee filters. Managing director is Lars Waldemarsson. The purchasing department is managed by Douglas Jonhag, assisted by Joakim Stara.

PHOTO : The old family shop in Helsingborg

PHOTO : Zoegas produces 35 tons of coffee daily.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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