Exclusive: Lakrids by Bülow continues global expansion plans for liquorice lines
pic: Lakrids by Bulow
While liquorice may not be universally popular, one business, Lakrids by Bülow, is aiming to change that with its distinctive premium Danish brand making global waves with expanded retail lines and store creation plans, as Neill Barston discovers speaking to its founder.
Fifteen years ago on a small island off the coast of Denmark, Johan Bülow set out on a mission to make the world love liquorice.
The ambitious young entrepreneur was convinced that there would be a market for the distinctive dark treat that has been enjoyed for many generations in his native land. (See our exclusive video interview with him on the company’s progress).
As a thought-provoking means of engaging with consumers, last year, the Copenhagen-based gourmet business set out on an intriguing challenge in offering anyone in the world free liquorice samples. That is, so long as they ‘shared it with a hater,’ proving an ingenious marketing campaign that at the very least got people talking about the brand.
Moreover, as Lakrids (Danish for liquorice) marks its fifteenth birthday, the company’s amiable founder believes its core goal of encouraging consumers to embrace liquorice is proceeding well.
Clearly, from our conversation, there’s a sense of confidence about the business, as it continues to open retail concessions stores, including pop-up’s in combination with driving forward its online operations.
This month, the brand is set to deliver a sustainably focused new product line marking the company’s notable milestone, as it seeks to continuing its pattern of promising growth.
“I think our mission has been successful, and right now, we’re educating the world about chocolate liquorice,” he enthuses, noting that the saltier varieties have yet to enjoy quite the same level of cut-through into the market, yet its teams are greatly enjoying the task at hand in winning over an ever-growing number of fans for the gourmet brand produced close to the Danish capital.
As he notes, its progress has been founded on a principle of hard work through refining its ranges, which have seen it gradually expand along with its ever-more extensive series of flavours.
Reflecting on the company’s foundation, he says that he inherited a sense of determination to make his mark in the world, and soon discovered his own talents lay in his culinary abilities.
“I was super lucky that my mother taught me to go out into the world and do something that made me smile. I started out selling apples and cherries in front of my mother’s house, and by 14 I made a small kiosk selling pick-and mix candy, so I got a sense of responsibility at a very young age,” he of his formative years.
He continues: “I was 21 when had the idea and I had a flair for gourmet and got to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen in a design hotel, and I was there for a couple of years – and quite fast I became the manager of the business. I met my wife Sarah working there while there, and two years later, I decided that liquorice was the one and only project in the world.
“I’d got to that conclusion after a holiday back on my childhood home, where I saw my uncle hand-craft hard candies for tourists to the island – and it made me realise people are prepared to buy high these products for the experience. I was quite sure that there was a market for liquorice, because of the craftsmanship and higher quality if you sourced a different flour, or local oil, or better liquorice powder,” he recalls, noting that despite calling all the major producers around Europe he could imagine, no-one was interested in assisting him.
But as he explains, he returned to his mother’s kitchen working with a two kilogramme pot, which started off his journey in developing the recipes that it trades today.
He reveals one of the key aspects has been in securing a source of high quality liquorice root – while it grows around the world, certain locations are seemingly more favourable than others.
“I remember our first store, which was only 25m2, we’d struggled for about 15/16 months before that. But on the day we opened on 7 July, we sold out in just two hours, and we even sold what was almost the leftover liquorice from the bottom of the pot. We went on producing for another 18 hours the next day and we sold out again. It was like that for the entire summer,” adds Johan, who says he had always dreamt the venture would be more than just a seasonal business.
It was that initial ‘wow factor’ reaction from its local audiences, that he reveals gave him the confidence to steadily grow the business, offering plenty of praise for his wife and small production team around him that has continued to grow over the years. As he adds, there are significant aspirations for the business to grow in a number of territories, including within the UK.
When the company moved to its dedicated manufacturing facilities, a critical component was the equipment itself – which Johan recalls came courtesy of British firm BCH (below). The Lancashire business supplied him with an extruder machine, which to this day, stands as its sole piece of kit churning out a notable volume of liquorice.
“I can remember it just started with an email I sent them asking if they could help. So, I just got on a plane to Manchester to see them – I am sure they just looked at me and thought ‘what is this boy from Denmark trying to do,” but after some initial trial work, the company obliged with a line which is still fully operational.
As for its stores, Johan says he learned a lot about retailing early on, and this gave the business the confidence to open stores – with the company now having more than 25 locations across Europe, with plans to open a UK outlet by the end of the year in London.
While there have of course been clear pandemic challenges, he says that early on in the Covid-19 crisis they made an important decision to place a large emphasis on direct-to-consumer sales.
He notes this shift in mentality is something that continues to be important, along with a commitment to strong sustainability values, which he is especially passionate about. This includes responsibly sourced ingredients, as well as extending to the company’s product range jars being 100 per cent recycled and made of recyclable plastic.
This reduced its CO2 emissions by 40 per cent, with the company’s factory also running on 100% green energy, demonstrating that they’re making great confectionery and being kinder to the environment are concepts that are entirely compatible.
Speaking on his hopes for the firm, he adds: “Here in Denmark we have the iconic companies like Bang & Olufsen and Lego, so I truly believe that if we go about things the right way, nice and easy, and focus on our products, we could become iconic in the world confectionery industry- but we need to do it the right way and the honest way.”
Notably, the company recently used World Chocolate Day to unveil its latest organic Slow Crafted product range, presented in premium, recycled glass packaging.
As the business explained to Confectionery Production, its latest offering is based on the original recipe devised by Johan, who explained its latest line is gently cooked in an open batch for four hours and hand crafted creating a rich caramel-like texture of the liquorice, unlike any other. The collection introduces three varieties of chocolate coated liquorice, including Mango vanilla, Caramel Date, Dark Truffle, as well as a limited edition anniversary variety.
“We’ve focused a lot on sustainability with our latest range, taking things one step deeper than we have done before, and we’re continuing to grow the business. We are driving revenue with our export markets, especially in Germany, which is very strong for us. Obviously, there are difficulties with regards to ingredients and machinery right now, but we are growing and think the world is still loving liquorice more every single day.”