England has been enjoying some beneficial links with Sweden in recent times.

Most notably, a certain Sven-Goran Eriksson has provided the impetus to get our football team into the World Cup Finals.

But another great Swedish export – timber – which has considerably more historical links than football managers, has seen a major development with the VIDA Group, probably the largest privately-owned sawmiller in Sweden, opening a UK office in Ipswich.

With six specialist mills in southern Sweden and its headquarters in Alvesta, the group’s production is approximately 90% spruce and 10% pine.

Its big target areas in England are the expanding timber frame housing market and the DIY sector.

Selling more quality CLS is the main priority but other products being exported include decking, treated timber, battens, sawn dry graded carcassing and finger- jointed wood. Future possibilities may include collapsible pallet collars, produced by VIDA subsidiary Niab Timber.

VIDA exports 90% of its products, with the US taking the lion’s share (30%), followed by Germany (25%), the UK (20%) and Japan (15%).

Major investments in production, equipment and training over recent years are clearly bearing fruit and have led to increased capacity and sales in the various markets.

Since VIDA Wood UK Ltd‘s launch, sales have exceeded expectations and UK exports are projected to increase by 5% next year.

VIDA’s president Santhe Dahl says: ‘We think there are quite good opportunities in England. Timber frame is increasing and also has a large share of the construction market in Scotland.’

And, he adds, VIDA could offer the UK customer short lead times and extensive stock holding.

Mr Dahl also enthuses about the impact of the wood. for good campaign in the UK, particularly in the construction arena. He pointed out that one of VIDA’s owners, chairman Christer Johansson, is on the board of Timber 2000, the Nordic initiative which effectively gave birth to wood. for good.

He also believes in the internet’s potential in boosting sales and service quality. ‘Key customers can look into what we have in the pipeline, what’s on the way to the Swedish ports and on the vessel to the UK.’

And the company says it is not reducing production, unlike some sawmillers in northern Europe.

‘We are not reducing production. There is a shortage of logs today in southern Sweden and in Finland but we have a very long relationship with our log suppliers and we are not out of logs.’

Over the past 18 months VIDA has invested about £10m in improving its production but, despite this, expansion is not a priority. ‘We’re looking to make money by increasing margins. We have been profitable in the past 25 years which is quite unusual for sawmills.

‘We are very efficient, have long-standing customers and we have a tradition of people working very hard. Our staff are very good and they have a lot of fun.’

Even after September 11, the company remains upbeat. ‘It has been good for the last 10-15 years and there is no reason that should change,’ Mr Dahl adds.

The new UK office is run by sales managers Andrew Bullard and Ian Drane and now takes weekly shipments to Goole, Rochester and Chatham, mainly in CLS.

Mr Drane is clearly bullish about the new operation. ‘There is a real surge in the use of timber frame which we’re looking to help VIDA serve,’ he says.

The company is offering just in time delivery and supplying a broad mixture of timber frame house manufacturers and builders merchants, including several major players.

It is selling the full size range of sawn/ planed timber with bar coding and has stocks with either PEFC or FSC certification.

VIDA UK can also source timber outside the VIDA group (there are fortnightly shipments of kiln-dried graded carcassing from the Baltics) to meet market requirements.

Highlighting the company’s long-term perspective on the market, Mr Drane and Mr Bullard have also managed to find time to visit a local school, appropriately named Cedar Wood Primary School, to talk about VIDA’s products, sustainable production and timber generally