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Swedish drinks monopoly Systembolaget 'not about maximising sales'

Published:  03 December, 2014

"We're in this not for maximising sales but eliminating the harmful effects of alcohol. Is this possible? I think so." These words come from Sara Norrel, head of buying at Systembolaget, the monopoly that controls drinks sales in Sweden.

SystembolagetSystembolaget takes a differerent approach to alcohol and health issues to elsewhere in EuropeSara Norrell, head of buying at the Swedish drinks monopoly, said the group also looks to ensure fair treatment for its suppliers, as well as producers, through its support of Fair Trade.

The idea, that Swedes can enjoy alcohol without anyone being harmed, is admirable - but Systembolaget admits that 200,000 Swedish children are brought up in families where alcohol is abused. It makes efforts to limit consumption by not opening on Sundays, "not having a shop on every street corner" and no BOGOF promotions.

As the UK drinks trade grapples with the alcohol health lobby and threats of minimum pricing and other measures, Sweden's model is an interesting one to consider.

Systembolaget also looks to ensure fairer conditions for the supply chain, and is driving initiatives like Fair Trade - last year 50% of the world's fairly-traded wine ended up in Sweden. While in other countries, major retailers now source large quantities of wine direct from producers, this is not permitted in Sweden - they must buy from distributors.

"We don't negotiate on price - it's about quality," Norrel said at the Wine Vision conference in London last week. However she admitted that big retailers can, albeit unwittingly, "influence" how prices are set. "We have a big responsibility to do that in a good way," she added.   

Elsewhere in Europe, wine producing regions dominate their domestic sales. This is true of Austria, where more than two thirds (68%) of wine sold by Spar Austria are native - up from 40% 10 to 15 years ago. Wine category manager Anne Thysell, told delegates at the conference that aside from its regular stores, it also has 60 InterSpar shops - which are more higher end - similar to Waitrose in the UK, where wine sales account for 40% of turnover. Since Austrians are fans of visiting wineries and buying wine cellar door - the retailer has now agreed that its prices will be no more expensive than cellar door.