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An old player with a startup spirit

Lignell & Piispanen has updated its brand and existence with the international markets in mind.Lignell&Piispanen

Lignell & Piispanen, officially Oy Gust. Ranin, is one of the oldest family companies still up and running in Finland. Now it’s taking over Asia with an enthusiasm familiar from the startup scene.

People sipping cocktails in Singapore and China might, without knowing it, be enjoying flavours coming from Finnish forests. Some connoisseurs, of course, are well familiar with where their cloudberry liqueur comes from.

“In many corners of the world, Nordic seems to be a buzzword these days,” says Antti Hynninen, export manager at Lignell & Piispanen. “A lot of things coming from the Nordic countries and Scandinavia are gaining popularity.”

Hynninen should know: the demand for the Lignell & Piispanen berry liqueurs and other products is rapidly growing, particularly in Asia.

The history of Oy Gust. Ranin goes back all the way to the 1880s. Its founder, Gustav Ranin, was one of the main actors in developing the culture of alcohol consumption in Finland. He started importing cognacs and wines from other European countries, which brought variety to the less classy home-made spirits Finns had been drinking until then.

In the 1900s, Ranin purchased the business of two pharmacists from Kuopio, misters Hugo Lignell and August Piispanen. The duo had developed liqueurs, which were then passed onto Ranin’s responsibility. The receipt of one of the company’s most well-known products, Arctic bramble liqueur, has stayed almost exactly the same since its early days in 1882.

The Asian conquest is a lot newer. It’s only been in the past decade that Lignell & Piispanen has properly hit the global booze business.

Stories convince customers

In the 2000s, Lignell & Piispanen started to update its brand and existence with the international markets in mind.

“We recreated and renewed a lot of our key features simply by challenging all of our earlier practices,” Hynninen describes. “We questioned whether we did things right in recipes, design, marketing… all of it.”

Lignell & Piispanen has also been actively involved in Finpro’s* Food from Finland programme. First the company gathered a foothold in Europe, and the Asian adventure began from Hong Kong in 2012.

When it comes to alcohol, Asia differs from Finland in pretty much every aspect, from legislation to consumer habits and attitudes. Hynninen says the company worked extensively to make its approach fit the local demand.

“We Finns have been a little slow in entering Asia,” he points out. “The French, Italians and Scots had started taking over before Nordic countries sent in the first orders.”

Berries add a twist in the taste of liqueur. Image: Lignell&Piispanen

In addition to the trendy Northern heritage, Lignell & Piispanen stands out in the crowd due to its unique story. This plays a huge role in the company’s success.

“If we were only producing a mass item, there’d always be someone who can make it for a lower price,” Hynninen explains.” When we sell not only a product but also a story, we can offer a unique combination.”

In a constant state of renewal

Lignell & Piispanen’s speciality is its understanding of the authentic Nordic berries. No artificial flavours, just genuine berries picked by hand, served in bottles designed in Finland.

Despite turning 165 this year, Lignell & Piispanen has adopted a very startup style approach. Hynninen says the company is inspired by and functions like newborn companies.

“We share the enthusiasm of a company that’s just commencing its journey,” Hynninen says. “We are constantly ready and willing to update our offering. Even if we already think our product is outstanding, we’re open to ways of making it even better.”

Another startup-like aspect comes from staff. What began as a one-man show now employs almost two dozen people. Everyone’s ideas are listened to and appreciated.

Currently less than a half of the produce is exported. Alongside with Asia, many European countries get to fill their glasses with Lignell & Piispanen’s products. The first batch of bottles was sent to Kenya last summer, and other African countries might follow suit.

Both Hynninen and CEO Harri Nylund spend a significant chunk of their time travelling and knocking on new doors. At the moment, the focus is on tapping the market Stateside.

“We’ve received requests from the US, as the Nordic lifestyle is wildly popular across the Atlantic,” Hynninen says. “First we need to figure out all the red tape and regulations, but after that nothing is stopping us.”

He’s been happy to see other independent distilleries and breweries in Finland have also fearlessly left the comfort of their home in search of new taste buds.

“The drive and courage have reached new levels,” Hynninen notes.

So too will many a traditional cocktail menu – with the help of Nordic flavours.

Cloudberry and tonic, anyone? Image: Lignell&Piispanen

Good News from Finland is published by Finnfacts, which is a part of Finpro*.

*Part of Business Finland since 2018

By: Anne Salomäki