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Kjell Rosenlind And His Friends Take On the World!
by Bob Bradley

Vodka photo The Big Boys spend millions of dollars test marketing their products with a myriad of scientific studies designed to determine everything from the packaging to the projected demographic and psychographic profiles of their customers. Kjell Rosenlind (pronounced shell) didnít have the time, and certainly not the money to worry about studies. He spent twenty years of his life in Norway, and he already knew almost everything you have to know about great vodka. It was difficult indeed to forget the taste and smoothness of that wonderful vodka from his homeland.

It was to be many years later (following a successful twenty-five year career with Scott Paper Company) when he really had the time to miss Norway and the haunting taste of Vikingfjord. He also needed something to keep him busy, so during a casual dinner with a friend and prominent businessman from Oslo, the conversation turned to Norwegian vodka, and somewhere between the dessert and the coffee, Mr. Rosenlind made up his mind to share the experience of this brand with the rest of America. He asked his friend to gather the pertinent details, and shortly thereafter (September of 1994), Nordic Imports of Wallingford, Pennsylvania was born.

And in short order, he walked in (unannounced) to one of the very best restaurants in the entire world, and persuaded the folks at Le Bec-Fin to taste his "yet to be discovered" Vikingfjord Vodka. They gave him an immediate yes, and a few hours later, the powers to be at the Four Seasons and the Striped Bass did the same. So much for studies!

And while Kjell walked up and down Walnut Street searching for restaurant people who would taste his vodka, his longtime friend and business associate Bob Moser (retired manager of corporate accounts from the Olin Corp.), was busy visiting country clubs positioning this upscale brand to their upscale members. In fact, it was at Bobís club, Aronimink in Wayne, where I first sampled this intriguing vodka. How can you describe the taste of vodka, especially when so much of the experience is in the head. Letís just say that I quickly came to understand their emotion and dedication for this product.

This would be a great story of the triumph of the little guy against the giants, and the incredible opportunities in America for people with talent and ingenuity who strike out on their own and become successful and wealthy and live happily ever after. Of course, life just ainít that simple. And unfortunately, itís a long way from displaying your product at the bars of great restaurants and country clubs to persuading the public to visit their local state store and actually purchase it, tell all their friends about it, and return for more.

But letís not get ahead of ourselves, and keep in mind that Le Bec-Fin did say yes, and if they had said no, we probably wouldnít be writing this story. And whether or not Mr. Rosenlind and his new Company, Nordic Imports, ever hit the big time, one thing is already for certain Ė Vikingfjord is one excellent product, and the story of its success in the United States is really yet to be determined.

Vikingfjord is a premium vodka which competes in price and quality with the likes of Absolute from Sweden, Ketel One from Holland, Belvedere from Poland, and Stolichnaya from Russia Ė some pretty formidable brands. Vikingfjord is made from northern grown Norwegian potatoes using glacier pure water while so much vodka today is made less expensively from grain. And this is actually the second time around for Vikingjford in America. In 1985, Heublein marketed this brand for a brief period and promptly discontinued their efforts. Rosenlind was never deterred by this possibly significant piece of history. According to his account, "their timing was wrong, and they were undergoing major corporate changes that resulted in their lack of patience for the brand." "And keep in mind that during this time, the public really wasnít ready to support a new premium vodka." "People today are probably drinking less, but theyíre certainly drinking better, and this attitude makes our timing so right."

Just so you donít get the idea that this experience is all about vodka and roses, there were many days that Kjell wishes his love affair was with the smoked fish instead of the beverage. In plain words, itís not easy to introduce a new brand to this country. Itís not easy for the Seagramís, and the Jim Beamís, and the Finlandiaís Ė so you can be sure that itís next to impossible for a couple of retired guys from the suburbs.

And without detailing the specifics of the emotional and financial battle to finally get the product on the shelves, itís not an experience for the casual investor. Itís a war of nerves and incredible patience and determination, and thankfully, Kjell Rosenlind hung in there and removed one obstacle after another. The bottle wasnít right (they had to convert from the standard European 700 ml. to the standard U.S. size of 750 ml.); the label wasnít correct (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms wants it their way); even the shipping cartons had to be re-designed (not sturdy enough for the U.S. market). It was one headache after another, but finally, in December of 1996 (too late for the holiday buying season), Vikingfjord was shipped to selected stores in the Pennsylvania State Store system.

And now comes the real battle Ė actually selling the vodka! It certainly helps to have a wonderful product, but this industry is really about marketing, and sometimes all the enthusiasm in the world canít fight the almighty dollar. Vikingfjord has entered an arena where the typical competitor might spend upwards of 35 million dollars on advertising during the year. Last year Nordic Imports sprung for $2250 for one ad in the spring issue of the Pennsylvania State Wine & Liquor Quarterly with distribution throughout the State Store system. The results are difficult to measure, but letís politely say that the ad didnít make it necessary to put on extra help. And this was the first and possibly last ad in the campaign to introduce Vikingfjord to the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Kjell Rosenlind is one tough and dedicated man, and he will continue the battle. Bob Moser is one terrific salesman, and he will do what he has to do. And they do have another retired Dupont guy (Bob Alderson) working in Maryland. And they have hired McKenzie & Company with some twelve salespeople to cover the immediate territory. And right now it looks like the Green Bay Packers against the Episcopal Academy.

But if men like Kjell were around way back when, maybe we wouldnít have lost at the Alamo. And maybe this is a David vs. Goliath story with another happy ending. And when things get a bit down he turns to the Le Bec-Fins of the world and the letters from all over the country asking about the availability of Vikingfjord Vodka. And Kjell writes them back telling them that itís in Pennsylvania now, and will be coming to your state shortly.

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