The Big Interview: Peter Bronsman, Kopparberg Brewery

By Mike Berry

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pear cider Beer Cider Brewing

Kopparberg's Peter Bronsman: "People should love me because Kopparberg has helped grow the cider market hugely"
Kopparberg's Peter Bronsman: "People should love me because Kopparberg has helped grow the cider market hugely"
Kopparberg owner Peter Bronsman tells Mike Berry all about his near-death experience in the South China Sea, how he won over pear cider sceptics in the UK, and why he will never do a toffee flavour.

It is pitch black; you’ve got a broken arm and are desperately struggling to stay afloat in the treacherous, shark-infested waters of the South China Sea. While many people agonise from time to time over changing careers, Peter Bronsman’s dramatic near-death experience provided him with a clear decision.

He was a young merchant seaman and, while throwing rubbish sacks overboard, lost his footing and went with them. Fortunately, one of his shipmates saw him fall and sounded the alarm, but for two hours Bronsman clung to a sack hoping to be rescued.

“I thought I was dead and said to myself, ‘there must be something less dangerous to do with my life’.”


Fast-forward 27 years and he is the multi-millionaire owner of Sweden’s largest brewery, Kopparberg, selling millions of litres of cider worldwide. He’s the man responsible for bringing a new wave of ciders to the UK and thinks the industry “should love me” for expediting the huge growth explosion of the market.

After his traumatic experience, Bronsman quit life at sea and moved back to Sweden, setting up a drinks import business with his brother, which soon became successful. In 1994 he saw an advert in a newspaper that an old brewery in the tiny, picturesque town of Kopparberg in central Sweden, was up for sale.

As a keen beer drinker this piqued his interest, but the brewery was in a dreadful state of disrepair and needed significant investment. Brewing had stopped years before and the facility was only being used to bottle the “good water” in the region — the soft water with low mineral content that Kopparberg still sources locally.

Undeterred, he scraped enough money together and bought the brewery for about £500,000, insisting to his wife that he’d got “the best deal in the world” and despite people telling him that if he liked beer he should buy pubs, rather than a brewery, as they were easier to run. “I was 29 and it was the biggest dream in the world — I felt I was here to fix something,” he says.


Bronsman immediately re-hired the old brewmaster and set about investing in the site and growing volumes. His first thought was to brew beer but eventually moved towards making cider as well, which — 20 years on — now accounts for 60% of total production. The vast majority of this is exported to 40 countries worldwide, the UK being the single biggest market at 55 million litres.

The company says its cider is based on an old Swedish recipe dating back to 1930, although it imports the apples and pears it uses from Austria and Italy as the Swedish climate is too cold to grow them.

Traditionalists would argue that Kopparberg’s ciders are too sweet, but they meet the demands of younger drinkers with sweeter palates who are looking to experiment with flavours.

It was that sweeter flavour that first titillated the taste buds of young Swedes abroad. With alcohol marketing tightly controlled at home, Bronsman ensured they — and other nationalities — could get hold of the cider when holidaying in the Mediterranean. Demand grew and domestic sales rocketed.


The real success story is Kopparberg’s Pear variant, which was launched in the UK in 2006 and is now the world’s best-selling pear cider. But despite success in his homeland, it took Bronsman perseverance to persuade sceptics in the UK it was a drink that would fly.

“I wanted to create a new-style cider and when I first went to the UK with pear cider it took many meetings to convince people that it was a product that would be popular. It was hard work to get the doors open,” he says. But open they did, and now Kopparberg is the largest packaged cider in the UK on-trade.

“People should love me because Kopparberg has helped grow the cider market hugely. If we hadn’t launched those ciders, this would never have happened,” he insists.

Bronsman believes there is still plenty of growth in the UK market, predicted to rise by 17% by 2018, and feels that cider can take share from other drinks categories as consumers’ repertoires change and expand.

But he shakes his head disappointedly when asked about the new, wackier cider variants and hybrids being launched in a bid to attract new drinkers.

“The industry itself must be responsible and have that agenda because otherwise Governments intervene. We don’t want to be associated with more [of the] different flavours or branded alcopops,” he says. “We will never do a toffee flavour,” he adds, in a thinly-veiled dig at one UK brand.

Craft beers

Along with the site in Kopparberg, the Bronsman empire now consists of three other breweries across Sweden, producing the country’s biggest-selling lager Sofiero and a burgeoning range of craft beers. Bronsman says one of these beers — Höga Kusten, a mix of lager and ale — will be coming to the UK at some point in the near future.

“I have the same gut feeling with Höga Kusten that I did with pear cider before we launched,” he says. “It will be a long-term play for us and something different for people to drink. Our craft beer can help us grow respect and understanding for Kopparberg as a brewery.”

The range also includes an IPA, premium ale, dark lager and Pilsner.

In addition, Bronsman now runs pubs — five across Sweden — including the flagship John Scott’s site in Gothenburg, named after the English priest that lived in the city in the late 18th century. He doesn’t overtly push his own brands and says the pubs are a good testing ground for new brews, offering something different for consumers.

“Lots of pubs are tied to the larger breweries but it is boring for drinkers,” he says. “So I wanted to open up the market, get people back into pubs and focus on what consumers want.” The pubs are performing well and there may be further acquisitions in the future, he adds.


Would he ever consider selling up? Last year company turnover hit £235m and Bronsman could be forgiven for wanting to take time out after two decades of hard graft.

Not a chance, he says. Bronsman is focused on growing Kopparberg’s export business even further and last year signed a major distribution deal with SABMiller to take his cider into new markets.

Bigger breweries have tried to buy the business — but it’s not for sale, Bronsman insists. “That’s a decision made from the heart. My dream is to grow a little every year and make good products,” he says. “We have built something special here.”

Peter Bronsman is speaking at this year's Cider Trends Summit, taking place in Bristol on 17 June. For more details and to book, visit the event website.

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