Our Rapala VMC team members around the world stood shoulder-to-shoulder in 2021 and successfully navigated around all the pandemic-related obstacles on our way to deliver an All-Time-High record-breaking year. The health & safety of our team members have been in key focus from the very start of the pandemic, the strict operational watchtowers used in 2020 were kept in place also in 2021. As a result, Rapala VMC suffered relatively few pandemic related disruptions in 2021. On the contrary: we benefitted from the demand surge in the sport fishing industry.
I am so proud to look back at 2021 and I feel very privileged to lead a team that together has accomplished these great results. We have several newly promoted managers in our group who really stepped up to the occasion and helped us deliver an overall impressive year.
Our net sales in 2021 increased by 13 % to 294.3 MEUR, despite the significant shortfall of having no Shimano and much fewer third-party brands in our key European markets in 2021. With the increased focus on group brands, these brands achieved 227.7 MEUR of sales, also marking a new record. We also achieved our highest comparable EBIT ever of 32.7 MEUR in 2021. On top, we fully repaid the costly hybrid bond in 2021, meaning our balance sheet now is strong and will provide a great foundation for future growth.
2021 marked a new chapter for Rapala VMC, in that our group no longer were to distribute Shimano in the largest markets in Europe. In 2021 several thousand Shimano SKUs were resolutely phased out and several thousand Okuma SKUs were being prepared for a pan-European launch in 2022. A monumental task, which has resulted in that we in 2022 will begin to sell a rod & reel portfolio based entirely on group brands. This will provide a great robust growth pillar for our group for many years to come!
I am especially proud to announce, that I consider 2021 as our breakthrough year in terms of sustainability. Without clean and healthy waters, there would be no angling. And there certainly would be no Rapala VMC. Our ambition is to take a leading position in sustainability within the sport fishing industry through relentless work over the coming years. We know that we set the bar high, but this only inspires us to work harder.
With fewer management layers, less bureaucracy, fewer SKUs, fewer distribution centers, sharper brand strategies, and an improved financial & operational platform, Rapala VMC today moves faster, executes our strategy with more ease and we have more fun while working together as a tighter ONE RAPALA VMC team.
Having finalized the diligent clean-up of all legacy issues back in 2020, incl. the important ramp-down of the Batam production unit, our focus has shifted into becoming a united group brand & innovation-driven sport fishing powerhouse. This great transformational growth journey has only begun, and it is with great excitement that I look forward to utilizing the full potential of Rapala VMC over the years to come and also taking a leading position in sustainability within the sport fishing industry.
PRESIDENT AND CEO
NICOLAS CEDERSTRÖM WARCHALOWSKI