Who’s Who in Sweden

Elke Jung does a deep dive into Sweden, one of the world’s most important wine import markets.

Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash
Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash

To be a wine lover in Sweden is both easy and complicated. The shelves of Systembolaget make it appear a world of wine is available — but maybe it’s not always true.

The monopoly market is complex.

The assortment is based on previous sales and, while Systembolaget has a “fixed assortment” of 2,500 products, they are not available in every store. The range increases in places where sales are higher — a single store, located in a remote place, may have a very limited range, consisting of a variety of national bestsellers. Then there is the order-assortment, consisting of around 13,000 products, which customers can order online.

Before Covid-19, Swedish consumers were reluctant to order from Systembolaget. While that has changed, not everything is available — there is a big difference in availability for residents living in small towns such as Ånge, who may have limited options, versus residents of Stockholm.

There is also the question of whether private individuals can import alcohol from elsewhere in Europe, for personal use. In 2007, the European Court of Justice passed a judgement called the Rosengrendomen, which said barring them from doing so constituted a trade restriction. While this opened the door for individuals to buy from elsewhere in the EU, it also allowed foreign direct marketing companies to sell to Swedish citizens. The question of whether this is legal is about to come up in court at the time of publication.

Regardless, importers with a permit can bring in wines and sell them to both Systembolaget and to on-trade businesses with a permit to serve alcohol.

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