SEVA IBP is the epitome of today’s travel retail companies. Family-owned, it was first established in 1997 by Severino Pušić, and today SEVA has a true global footprint. It’s duty free operations, under the name of SEVA IBP, are headquartered in The Netherlands, managed by Laura Klingeman, with other offices in Athens, Greece; Panama City, Panama; Jebel Ali Dubai in the UAE; and Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Domestic market operations are managed out of Serbia.
In addition to its duty free and travel retail business, the SEVA Group umbrella also encompasses real estate, distribution and an award-winning winery.
The duty free business is officially known as SEVA IBP, standing for Integrated Brand Positioning. The focus of this business is squarely on Europe and Latin America, Klingeman tells TMI. Another company in the group, Organico Solutions, under Roger Jackson in Dubai, is responsible for duty free and distribution in the Middle East and Africa.
The Group SEVA IBP also operates a retail entity, Seva Duty Free, in Croatia on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as a sister company in Panama, which also serves IBP, says Klingeman.
With her background in international business, languages and anthropology, plus a masters in Latin American and Caribbean studies, Klingeman was in the perfect position to expand the SEVA business to Latin America when she met Severino Pušić about 10 years ago.
“This is where the SEVA IBP Latin story begins,” says Klingeman. “I met Severino, and he is very visionary, and very strategic. Originally from the former Yugoslavian countries, it was a turbulent time, which is how he came to The Netherlands. When I joined the company more than ten years ago, the domestic market distribution was all set up. From the base in the Balkans and the former Yugoslavian countries, the company had expanded to Eastern Europe and then to full European distribution for the brand owners, which included most of the top spirits companies in the world.”
Today, some 95% of the SEVA business continues to be in Wines and Spirits. The company even owns its own award-winning winery in Herzegovina, called Rubis Wines, which it is just now beginning to export its products in the global travel retail channel. Spirits makes up the bulk of the business.
After deciding to enter the Latin America market, SEVA set up an office in Panama: “I lived in Panama, and knew the customers there. Envisioning the growth in the Latin markets, we organized an operation in the Colon Free Zone, which is important, especially for spirits and tobacco. This allowed us to operate under our name.”
In terms of logistics, nearly all of SEVA IBP’s distribution to Latin America goes through its own bonded warehouse in Ploče, Croatia, from where it ships full container loads, or from regional 3rd party logistics.
Among the brands that SEVA IBP represents in Latin America are Jägermeister, Bacardi, and brands from the Duty Free Global portfolio including Gunpowder Gin, Silent Pool Gin, and many Sazerac brands. The company has begun representing two brands from Young Spirits (Garry Maxwell and Tim Young), Au Vodka and Equiano Rum and is just starting with Loch Lomond. It is now launching the Rubis wines into Latin America, as well.
“We also see some opportunities to expand our business with some brands in Europe to Latin America,” noted Klingeman.
The company is also now venturing into tobacco, representing premium GURKHA Cigars in the region after sister company Organico Solutions out of Dubai secured the exclusive global duty free and travel retail distribution for the brand.
“Gurkha is a luxury, artisanal cigar. Made from the finest tobacco, the cigars are hand rolled in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Gurkha has curated a core range of travel retail products, including sampler packs and infused collections,” says Klingeman. “But they are most famous for – and the reason behind their huge success over the past two years—their ‘Baggies’ packaging, which eliminates the need for a humidor. We showed the Gurkha cigars in Cannes and have just started rolling these out now.”
This year, Gurkha plans to launch its Travel Retail Exclusives line of cigars. These will be showcased in Cannes in October.
SEVA IBP services over 60 points of sale in Europe and 30 points of sale in Latin America across all DFTR channels. The company supplies points of sale in 14 countries in South and Central America. Among its largest customers in Latin America, SEVA works with London Supply, Cell Shop, with Top Brands International through both Neutral and its Luryx divisions, Premium Brands Group –PBG –in Panama, and Aeroboutiques.
As brand builders, SEVA IBP’s role goes beyond simply delivering product. Particularly for Jägermeister, SEVA provides custom furniture for the brand and helps stage activations. In addition to gwps and gift packs, the brand has had great success with on-site tastings using its bottle tap machine that delivers a shot at exactly the right cool temperature.
SEVA also ran some very impactful tastings for Gunpowder Gin with London Supply pre-COVID, which they are hoping to re-introducing again at this very moment.
If Klingeman had to pick one key target market, she admits it would have to be the Brazilian customer, wherever he or she travels.
“The Brazilians are great duty free customers—they have money and the taxation is very high in the country. The business in the Brazilian border stores is also expanding,” she says. The border stores in Panama and Colombia are also good markets.
Klingeman is optimistic that the business will continue to grow in Latin America —through both the new brands launching and new customers coming into the portfolio.
In fact, Klingeman is being joined by George Koropoulis to manage the business in the region. Koropoulis had been Senior Sales Manager DFTR for Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East for nearly five years up until last December, when he became sales director for SEVA IBP. Both of them will be in Buenos Aires to meet new and existing customers at the ASUTIL Conference.
Looking back over the last 10 years, Klingeman credits the success of the company so far to three pillars.
“Opening our own warehouse and opening our own store—these really helped us develop into a team. And of course, getting the contracts with the companies that work with us is something to be proud of: working with Bacardi, and LVMH, and Diageo (amongst others). And that is what we have been building over the years.”
But most importantly, she points to the DNA of SEVA Group for its success.
“What I want people to understand is that, although we have a big group behind us, it’s still a family company. And I see this in every aspect of our company. It’s the way all the colleagues act with each other. It’s the way that we work with both the customer and the brand owner. Especially during these turbulent and difficult times, we were all there for each other.
“We’re actually quite a small team, and we don’t have a corporate attitude or mentality. We’re dynamic, we’re enthusiastic in whatever we do. And I truly believe we see this attitude with the people we partner with, companies like Jägermeister and Bacardi.
“I think we work hard and we have fun with each other. And that’s the only way, in my opinion, of doing business because it means if everything goes well, everybody’s happy. And in those times where it might not go well, you still need to enjoy yourself and make it work. And this is an attitude that comes from the top of our company.”