TRBusiness’ Faye Bartle travelled to Koskenkorva Village in Finland to learn about the vodka brand’s ‘untold’ sustainability story and how this is playing a key role in powering its growth in travel retail.
The Anora owned Koskenkorva brand is a household name in Finland. However, its impressive roster of achievements and future goals around sustainability has, until now, flown relatively under the radar.
But as the company works to strengthen the brand’s position in the Nordics and propel its journey through Europe and beyond, this quiet approach has been turned on its head as sustainability becomes an increasingly important part of the narrative.
“The brand has been quite modest about its achievements,” said Sanna Sundin, Marketing Manager DFTR, Anora Group.
“At the Koskenkorva distillery, sustainability has been a way of life ever since it opened. It’s just until recent years we’ve started to talk about it.
“I’m thrilled we have an opportunity to give a first-hand insight on how we work with sustainability in the village.
“In addition to that, the brand team has done a phenomenal job in creating a communication that really captures the village of Koskenkorva and the sustainability efforts with a sense of humour and down-to-earth feeling.
The overriding aim is to let the brand’s authenticity shine through – a fitting goal considering sustainability has been the modus operandi at the distillery since it was built in 1938 (on land bought from the Koskenkorva estate).
TRBusiness got a first-hand insight into this as part of the Koskenkorva Village experience, which immerses visitors in the fun and eco-friendly world of the brand.
Why sustainability is a way of life at Koskenkorva Village
Located in Southern Ostrobothnia on the bank of the Kyröjoki River (around four-and-a-half hours on the train from Helsinki), the village is home to about 2,220 people and features a dedicated museum and Koskenkorva Trahteeri guesthouse run second-generation Koskenkorva family members.
The on-site distillery is a curious web of machinery. In the beginning, its design was driven by a simple desire for efficiency, according to production manager Arttu Kivi.
Over the years, this has evolved into the sophisticated process at work today, which the company says is relatively rare in the production of spirits.
The production runs non-stop for 350 days a year with its continuous distillation process featuring nine columns (five main and four supporting). This has several advantages compared to regular batch distillation, including the ability to distill larger amounts more efficiently.
It also cuts the need for unnecessary washing which, in turn, decreases water consumption, chemical and energy use and ensures a more uniform quality of the product. The result is a 100% unfiltered pure spirit post distillation.
We were given a ‘smell test’ of the vodka at various points of the process and it was easy to understand how each additional purification step makes a difference.
The distillery runs mostly on bioenergy generated by the on-site power plant and utilises 100% of the barley grain. Even the leftover barley husks used as fuel for producing steam energy which is harnessed for the distillation.
This clever process has earned it a recycling and reutilisation rate of 99.9%, meaning practically nothing goes to waste.
What can’t be used for vodka goes into making animal feed and the leftover starch can be used to make paper. Even the ashes from the bioenergy plant are collected to fertilise the barley fields.
The renewable fuel produced has helped the company to reduce its CO2 emissions by over 50% since 2014. In fact, it’s now 60% self-sufficient in terms of steam generation for the distillery. It aims to achieve a fully carbon neutral production by 2025.
The distiller uses an increasing amount of regeneratively farmed barley (Koskenkorva Climate Action Vodka, launched in 2021, claims to be ‘the first vodka in the world’ made entirely from regeneratively farmed barley).
One of the suppliers is Noora Aila who runs the local Aila-Korpela farm with her husband.
“Regenerative farming touches every action point of the farm,” she explains. “For example, compared to ‘regular’ farming, we minimise the cultivation of the soil. After the barely harvest, the cover crops take over, which keeps the soil, the land and the fields green so that we can keep taking CO2 out of the air and putting it down into the soil.”
This is effectively helping to fight climate change by converting fields from emission sources into carbon sinks. As the crops requires less watering, the method also aids biodiversity by helping to keep nutrients in the soil rather than seeping into water bodies.
As for the taste, the vodka lives up to expectations with a noticeably smooth quality. The fact that locally sourced 100% unfiltered and unprocessed pure spring water is added to the grain spirit plays another key role in this.
Capturing the imagination of consumers in the channel
Anora Group (born out of the Altia and Arcus merger in September 2021) has big plans for Koskenkorva, drawing on its near 70-year heritage (the first Koskenkorva product, Koskenkorva Viina, came to market in 1953) – to propel the brand forward.
“Koskenkorva is exported to over 30 markets globally, and its main business is in the Nordics,” said Sundin. “Our biggest domestic markets are Finland, Norway and Sweden. Our heritage brands are deeply rooted in the culture, but we want to expand – there’s no secret about that.”
Currently, there is a wide range of products in the Koskenkorva portfolio, from the original vodka to the flavoured varieties, such as Raspberry & Pine, Blueberry & Juniper and Sauna Barrel.
During our trip, we foraged for our own ingredients in the nearby forest (blueberry, juniper, yarrow and pine are native to the area) to use in our own vodka cocktail. Those looking to take a shortcut, however, can enjoy the ready to drink (RTD) collection.
Koskenkorva’s travel retail business consists of airports, ferries, airlines and the border trade.
“We haven’t yet worked on exclusive sets for travel retail, but we would like to,” said Sundin. “There is, however, a challenge with sustainability here that needs to be taken into account.
Germany, the UK, the southern part of Europe and the US are some of the key focus areas for expansion in the future.
“Some of these markets go hand in hand with our domestic business, some are part of our strategy of following the Nordic consumer and some are important to look at as they are mature enough for the sustainability angle,” explained Sundin.
“For Koskenkorva, we are working on ways we can bring the feeling of the village into the outlets, in a sustainable way.
“In our home markets, it’s a challenge to speak about the achievements towards the consumer due to marketing regulations. That’s why the travel retail channel is a great opportunity for us to tell brand stories.”
Anora Group is due to present the strategy moving forward, including the sustainability strategy, on 29 November at the Anora Capital Markets Day.
Video of our trip to Koskenkorva Village on 25 August by Kimmo Ervola
Scroll down for more images highlighting more great experiences from our trip.