The top wine buyers of Denmark

Elsebeth Lohfert identifies the key purchasers in the wine-loving country of Denmark.

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Wine continues to be a favourite beverage among young Danes, and at 36 litres per head a year, Denmark is the biggest wine consumer of the non-wine producing countries. With no government monopoly to regulate alcohol sales, the supply of wine is endless and so is the variety, thanks to the efforts of more than 1,000 small importers. They contrast with the highly competitive big multiples which sell 80% of all wine in the supermarket chains.

The on-trade represents about 7% of the market, while specialist stores and online sales represent 13%. 

The Coop

Coop Amba is, as the name suggests, a co-operative community owned by 1.8m members. It’s Denmark’s largest supermarket group, with five different retail chains across 1,122 locations: Kvickly (78 shops), SuperBrugsen (230), Dagli’Brugsen (314), Irma (80) and Fakta (420). According to figures published November 1st 2019, Coop’s market share is no less than 44% of all wines sold in supermarkets. Martin Drewsen is responsible for the group’s centralised buying team; he has worked in the Coop wine and spirits division for 24 years and has, since 2014, been the category manager, with three buyers referring to him. 

Coop’s strategy has evolved a system where, to minimise prices, it imports 95% of the 800 different labels sold on its shelves. Pricewise the DKr50 ($7.40) segment is most popular; this is just an average, however, as the majority of sales are done on promotion. Red wine accounts for 80% of total sales and big categories include Primitivo, Zinfandel, wines from Chile, South Italy and Puglia, and others, including from South African supplier Spier.
On November 1st 2019, Coop launched a new online platform with the ambition to achieve half of Denmark’s online sales within four years. On the new site, customers can order 1,100 wines and spirits, including the popular Burmester Port that was, until this year, a strong brand promoted by Philipson Wine, Denmark’s biggest online retailer. It seems an online war is in the air.

The next biggest multiples

Since July 2018, French-born sommelier Laurence Muller has been purchasing manager for wines and spirits with Denmark’s second-biggest multiple, The Salling Group. She leads a team of 11, including Mikkel Nielsen Kusk, who in May 2019 was appointed senior category manager. They are responsible for wines sold in the three chains: Netto (507 shops), Føtex (102 shops and online and Bilka (19 warehouses and online

Dagrofa is the third biggest multiple with 511 shops. The central buying unit for these outlets is led by Mogens Alexander Krasilnikoff, category manager of wine and spirits, with the help of purchaser Dan Christiansen, who has been in the position since 2008. They sell the wines they choose in five chains: Meny (116 shops), Spar (130), Min Købmand (163) and Let-Køb (102). About 75% of the 2,600 different wines the company sells it imports itself. Strategically, the buyers look to what is trending in the market, and report that the white wine, rosé, sparkling and Port categories are growing. Red wine, however, is still by far the biggest category, with about 50% from Italy.

Private companies

AMKA was established 41 years ago by Anna-Marie Søndergaard and her husband Karsten. Since then the family has crossed many borders and AMKA Group now consists of 20 individual companies in nine countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Portugal. Primarily it imports and distributes wine, but also beer and spirits from all over the world. With sales to border trade, duty-free, monopolies, web shops, wine shops, kiosks, hotels, restaurants, cafés and the retail industry, it covers all on-trade and off-trade sales channels in the markets. Annually it turns over approximately 30 million plus bottles with a portfolio of 2,800 wines. The AMKA buying team consists of Anders Ellitsgaard Larsen, group manager purchase and logistics, who is responsible for bulk worldwide, plus Ulrich Guldfeldt, product manager responsible for estate wines in the EU, and purchaser Stine Storgaard Nielsen, responsible for estate wines overseas. Their philosophy is to work with trusted partners using market insights to react to trends and buying habits. At the moment their most popular wines at the entry-level (DKr30-40) are The Zin Zinfandel, Tabiso Shiraz and Tabiso Chardonnay, Santa Rita Rosé, Santa Rita Chardonnay and Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Taster Wine was founded in 1946 by Fritz Paustian and remains a family-owned business today, managed by his two sons, Ole and Fritz Paustian, with members of the third generation in position. Wine from all over the world is imported in bottle and in bulk, where it is handled and distributed from the company’s own bottling plant. The wine buyer, Bo Halstrøm, has his customers in all segments of the Danish market: supermarkets, restaurants, duty-free/travel retail and 37 Skjold Burne shops, the oldest chain of specialist retailers in Denmark. 

Østjysk Vinforsyning has a portfolio of 2,000 wines, supplying 34 Vinoble specialty wine stores and 100 independent specialty shops and web stores, along with supermarkets, HoReCa, business-to-business customers, the duty-free trade and fine wine. Since 2012, Østjysk Vinforsyning has also been in the Swedish market with a business-to-business portfolio, with a listing of wines in Systembolaget’s assortment. Since October 2017, the company has been jointly owned and run by three partners: Esben Sønderby, Niels Nørgaard and Thomas Sønderby Sivholm. The purchasing manager is Sivholm, helped by a team of three buyers: Philip Dyna, who is responsible for fine wine (Bordeaux, Burgundy and international icons); Lis Amstrup Christensen, who has the German portfolio; and Jeppe Lundorf, in charge of organic and bulk wine. The majority of wines sold in volume come from Italy, where the value of French wines sold is rising, due to the popularity of Champagne and Burgundy. Sivholm further notes that the trend now is lighter, more fruity wines, with a maximum of 13.5% alcohol. Strategically, organic wines are a focus: “Today we almost only include new wines in our portfolio if they are certified organic or sustainable.”

France and Italy on the up

H.J. Hansen has exclusive relationships with about 100 producers, with which it builds long-term relationships, while 82 employees handle the 2,500 different wines sold to HoReCa, business-to-business clients, online, or through the Vinspecialisten chain of 52 shops. Peter Møller Andersen is the purchasing manager. Guiding his strategy is the trend he sees in the market. “Now Europe has become more a focus,” he says. “France and Italy especially are on an upward curve, just like organic wines. And also rosé. At the moment, our two most sold wines are a French rosé and a Tawny Port.”

With a royal warrant as wine merchant to the King, and as the oldest wine shop in Copenhagen, history is well preserved at Kjær & Sommerfeldt, established in 1875. Balancing history and 21st century strategy management has been the goal of CEO Mads Stensgaard since he and his partners bought the company in 2008. Today, they supply 1,500 hotels, restaurants and cafés and more than 1,200 business-to-business clients. The philosophy is long-term relationships, which at the moment include 75 suppliers, notably Hugel, Peter Lehmann, Chapoutier, Louis Jadot, Nicolas Feuillatte, Tommasi, Biondi Santi, Raimat, Beyersklooff, Warren and Stag’s Leap. The strategy of the buying team is to decode trends in the market and react accordingly. This is done by the two buyers, Henrik Straarup Søndergaard and Klaus Fritzbøger. At the moment they see a growth in organic wines, and fruity, lighter, less alcoholic wines with a European origin preferred to New World. The most sold entry level wine comes from South Africa, followed by Zinfandel from the US and Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

Holte Vinlager was founded in 1981 by Karlin Nielsen. Today it’s a franchise chain of 16 specialty wine and spirits shops. Buying is done centrally by a panel of three to six, including Karlin Nielsen’s three sons Henrik, Jan and Claus Hegelund Nielsen. Their philosophy is “one wine in, one wine out” and they look for new wines and inspiration at Vinitaly, ProWein and Vinexpo, keeping their father’s words in mind: “Take care of the suppliers you have.” Among the portfolio of 500 wines are the red bestseller Primitivo di Manduria DOC and the white Baby Doll Sauvignon Blanc. Among the long-term suppliers are the Saint-Émilion producer Jean Baptiste Brunot, Henri Bourgeois from Sancerre, Carpineto Wines from Tuscany and Ca’del Monte from Veneto.

The big online player

Christian Philipson of Philipson Wine is the most successful online retailer in Denmark. He was the CEO of a steel factory in Burgundy when, in 1987, he sold his first wines from his grandparents’ garage. Things developed at gazelle-like speed and in 1992 he introduced the cash and carry concept of selling only 12-bottle cases. In 2000 he launched a successful new brand with one of his key suppliers, Guigal, a Côtes du Rhône 2000 Cuvée Philipson, tailor-made in collaboration with Marcel Guigal. Since then the concept has been repeated with other producers from his portfolio: Catena, Viu Manent, Boekenhoutskloof, Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo and Telmo Rodríguez. Philipson closely follows and reacts to trends with his purchase manager, Lars Christoffersen. The current market demand is for lighter and lower alcohol wines, and also organic and sustainable wines. Of the 6,500 wines they sell online, their greatest volume success is Catena, and their greatest value success is Bollinger and Sassicaia. Having said goodbye earlier this year to Burmester Port, after a 25-year relationship, the company is now on its way to building a new strong brand with Feuerheerd’s Port. 

Elsebeth Lohfert

This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available in print and online by subscription.


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