The Swede who dodged the sharks to create a well-loved brand

Annabel Denham
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IF I learnt one thing from Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards earlier this month, it’s that entrepreneurship comes in many forms. From our own Lance Uggla of Markit fame to Hamdi Ulukaya, the US winner whose Chobani Greek Yoghurts are approaching $1bn (£649m) in annual sales, each startup has its own unique trajectory.

But not one has a back story like Sweden’s entry Peter Bronsman, whose Kopparberg Cider is widely quaffed across Europe, and who recently signed an agreement with global brewer SABMiller to license his cider in new global markets. Bronsman had been a merchant seaman for six years when, one night, he slipped and fell overboard. Watching the ship sail into the distance, and fearing the sharks were circling below, Bronsman’s prospects were poor. But two hours later the ship returned for its lost seaman and Bronsman decided to change his life entirely.

He bought Kopparbergs Bryggeri – a well-known brewery that had been on the market for two years and was fast-approaching bankruptcy – in 1994. It was a purchase he says was made with his gut, and £500,000 – a combination of his life savings and a loan from the local bank. The beer his brewery produces is now the most popular in Sweden. But Bronsman knew that his beer would never be an international success: that market was too saturated. Sweet cider, however, had rarely been seen across Europe, and Bronsman saw an opportunity. His target market was Brits on holiday in southern Spain. And the uptake was quick: it wasn’t long before pub chains and supermarkets in the UK began stocking his product.

Today, Kopparberg Cider is the world’s best-selling pear cider and the brewer is the third largest producer of cider in the UK. But Bronsman isn’t concerned about the two brewers he’s placed behind. He thinks that “the more players in the market, the more consumers will be drawn to our products. If the industry grows, so does my business”. And he feels far more threatened by the popularity of white and rose wine than by Strongbow’s fruity offering.

Bronsman is brimming with advice for other entrepreneurs. Top of his list is to never give up. And Kopparberg’s trajectory wasn’t all plain sailing. In 1995, the factory burnt down at huge financial loss – but he wasn’t deterred. Now, that factory is the production site for all Kopparberg ciders. The company has 350 Swedish employees. It proves that, much like his fellow Ernst & Young country-winners, Bronsman has the steely determination and tenacity needed to go it alone. Without it, he thinks “you cannot survive” the perilous waters of the startup world.

Annabel Palmer is business features writer at City A.M.