Making liquorice the first Finnish luxury food ingredient in the world
Timo Nisula is making determined efforts to export Kouvolan Lakritsi to other parts of the world. Conquering new markets requires a lot of legwork and increased production capacity. That is why a new liquorice factory is about to be completed in Kouvola.
“I have four goals for Kouvolan Lakritsi. I want to multiply the value of the company brand by one hundred, turn liquorice into a gourmet cooking ingredient and make it a design export product. And Kouvola must become Finland's most positive city.”
Kouvola is a city with 80,000 inhabitants in Southeast Finland.
Entrepreneur Timo Nisula boldly signs his e-mails referring to himself as El Presidente, The Republic of Liquorice. Raised in the western Finnish region of South Ostrobothnia, known for its entrepreneurial spirit, the experienced food-sector entrepreneur took the helm of the liquorice boat in 2008. He became a liquorice entrepreneur through many coincidences, and coincidences have also been part of the Kouvolan Lakritsi success story.
The company's foundation was cast in Vyborg already in 1906, where the lemonade and mineral water factory Papulan Vesitehdas Oy was founded. Vyborg is a city that Finland lost to the Soviet Union in the Second World War. The sister company of Papulan Vesitehdas, Makeis- ja Mehu Oy, saw the light of day in 1942. The company started producing liquorice in 1945, when the state, under post-war rationing conditions, granted Makeis- ja Mehu Oy a small batch of ingredients for making such a luxury product as liquorice. The liquorice manufacturing was moved to Kouvola in the 1960s. At the same time, a decision was made to fine-tune the liquorice recipe. A liquorice consultant by the name of H. Knoch was invited to perform the task, and he created the recipe Kouvola Lakritsi is using today.
Nisula became the sole proprietor of the company in 2014. The company's turnover has almost tripled in just over a decade, and in October-November 2022, the amount of liquorice produced was the same as the whole production of 2008. A total of approximately 850,000 kilos of liquorice is pouched per year. The product range has also expanded.
Liquorice manufacturing is a business of love
Over past decades, Timo Nisula imported to Finland products ranging from Swiss chocolate to nuts and dry fruit, but Kouvolan Lakritsi was the one with which he finally hit the jackpot.
“After all, liquorice is a mysterious product. I have met perhaps 100,000 people in my life, of whom 99,995 have commented that our liquorice is the best in the world. I say to our employees that we are actually a factory of love – we bring more happiness to people.”
Nisula attributes the success to the excellent product, but the long-term branding work has also accelerated the growth. Kouvolan Lakritsi has made itself known, for example, with its campaigns, one of which involved offering a job and an owner-occupied apartment to a person who needed a new start for his or her life. The liquorice factory has also become a Guinness World Record holder with its world's largest confectionery bag that weighed 830 kg.
“I have no humility or modesty genes at all, and I even gave up the feeling of shame a long time ago. If you have a great product, of course, you must let the whole world know about it. I hope that people not only know our products but that the things we offer also bring joy to their life. At the same time, I accept that not everyone likes us.”
We have to spread the joyful news to the world
With a twinkle in his eye, the liquorice entrepreneur says that at Kouvolan Lakritsi he has this “hobby” of ensuring exports. Currently, about 20-25% of liquorice is packaged for export, but the target is at 75%.
“We have to go and spread this joyful news to the world where no one has any idea of which liquorice would be really good.”
If you have a great product, of course, you must let the whole world know about it.
At least the British magazine LUXLife, having chosen Kouvolan Lakritsi as the world's best liquorice in its Food & Drinks Awards competition for three consecutive years, seems to agree with this.
Is Nisula aiming at having his treat on the shelves of every Walmart?
“We don't want to invest EUR 100 million and fall hard. We want to make Kouvolan Lakritsi a luxury product sold in select premium stores – something one might find on the front seat of every Bugatti being sold. Or actually, it could be that millionaires buy a box of liquorice and get a Bugatti into the bargain,” he says with a laugh.
All roads will eventually lead to Kouvola
A new liquorice factory is about to be completed in Kouvola, making it possible to double or triple the current liquorice production. In this world situation, such a huge investment seems like a bold move.
“If we decided to stop developing ourselves under uncertain conditions, it would be the end of our company. However, the factory would not have been built without a loan guaranteed by Finnvera.”
Nisula's work travelling and making international contacts will probably continue in the coming years. Kouvolan Lakritsi does meet the requirements set by luxury stores – a good story, freshness and craft quality – but it is not all that easy to raise a liquorice manufacturer from the small country of Finland on the lips of millionaires of the world.
Kouvola is the location of not only the liquorice company’s factory but also its new factory outlet and restaurant. Timo Nisula wants to build it into Finland's most popular tourist destination.
Kouvolan Lakritsi Oy
- The world's best liquorice manufacturer in 2020, 2021 and 2022 (according to the British magazine LUXLife).
- Turnover EUR 5.6 million (2022).
- Exports to, for instance, Europe and Canada account for 20–25% of the turnover.