The buyers of Sweden

Although Sweden’s wine retail is dominated by Systembolaget, the government monopoly, consumers can buy from independent retailers online. Vincent Arrhenius reports.

Daniel Eliasson, Ole Nielsen, Per Bielke
Daniel Eliasson, Ole Nielsen, Per Bielke

When Sweden joined the EU in 1995, the distributor Vin & Sprit (now owned by Pernod Ricard) lost their four monopolies: import, export, manufacture and wholesale. At the same time, Systembolaget lost its monopoly on sales to restaurants. The only monopoly that remains is Systembolaget’s monopoly on retail. 

Distance sales of alcohol − for example over the Internet − became allowed for private use in Sweden in 2007. According to Ole Nielsen, Chairman of the board in the online wine trade association Nätvinhandlarnas branschorganisation, there are now 93 companies in the online wine trade in Sweden, of which 21 are Danish and 9 are German. 

The online wine trade in Sweden is stilll very small, accounting for between 0.3% and 1.7 % of the total wine sales in Sweden, depending on which source of information you look at. On the other hand, there are expectations that the online trade will take a much larger market share in the near future. 

The forecast made by the monopoly is that 30% of the market will be online within four to ten years, and that seems likely, says Ole Nielsen. 

With a decreasing market share of only 59%, Sweden will have problems in maintaining the monopoly in the future.
 

Daniel Eliasson, Founder, Xwine 

www.xwine.se

Xwine’s idea is to enable our customers to order their wine directly from the wineries. Xwine takes care of practical aspects including transport and the payment of Swedish alcohol tax and VAT. Their vineyards are selected on a quality basis, but also because they offer the opportunity to visit the winery, stay in the area and experience the surroundings. Xwine offers wines from producers in France and Italy.

What are the main challenges for the online wine trade?

The main challenges are the logistics and legal restrictions. Traditional logistic processes and companies are not used to shipping these types of products to end users. Of course they know how to transport pallets of wine, but the biggest challenge is the “last mile” that usually is very expensive. 

When do you think Sweden will become an open market?

According to me, it is already a somewhat open market. For European companies that follow the regulation like us at Xwine, it is possible to sell to Swedish wine lovers. If you mean Sweden as an open market for selling wine in other stores/shops than Systembolaget, then it is more difficult to say. I believe that if someone really has the power to challenge the monopoly (Systembolaget) in the EU court, the monopoly might fall and an open market will emerge.  Some believe that we are going to see a liberalisation over the next couple of years. 

What trends do you see in Sweden?

I really like that there is such a huge demand for learning more about wine, wine production and the persons behind the vineyards. At Xwine, we really see this because we arrange a lot of wine tastings, wine education and winemakers dinners for our private customers. I think this is a very promising trend. Unfortunately there are also other wine trends: one is bag-in-box, and wines that are really easy to drink. The reason behind this is partly due to Systembolaget, who really promote this kind of wine and therefore the Swedes consume these somewhat boring products. 

Who are your customers?

Our customers are wine lovers that really like to drink something special and that is not available at Systembolaget. Many of our customers are also traveling to visit the vineyards and stay at their property.

 

Ole Nielsen, Founder Winefinder

www.Winefinder.se

Winefinder is a leading online wine store, with around 1,700 wines. Amost half of these fall under the category ’carefully selected’ and guarantee high quality. These wines have either been rated ‘outstanding’ or better by the world’s leading independent wine critics or been approved by Winefinder’s wine committee, consisting of sommeliers from some of the best restaurants in the Nordic region.

What is the typical setup for an online wine company?

Companies having their operation within the EU, but outside Sweden, may receive permission from the Swedish tax authority to conduct distance sales of alcoholic beverages to Swedish individuals. Swedish VAT and alcohol tax are included in price when the consumer buys from an online wine store. A Swedish company is needed to guarantee that the alcohol tax is paid if the foreign company does not pay the tax. All wines must be ordered through the Web. All wines should be stored and shipped outside of Sweden. 

What are the main challenges for the Internet wine trade?

The main challenge is the authorities’ attempts to implement trade obstacles in order to avoid competition. 

When do you think Sweden will become an open market?

It depends on the investments made in the free Internet wine trade. With a market share of only 59% and decreasing, the monopoly will not be able to uphold their position as a “defender of the public health” for very long. Recent surveys also show that the alcohol consumption in a totally free market as Denmark is about the same as in Sweden. 

How is the Swedish wine market different?

The monopoly is focusing on price more than quality. Tender-winning wines don’t stay for long since the quality isn’t high enough (compared to the price).

Who are your customers?

People willing to pay for quality. ­Average price per bottle, taxes included, 250.00 SEK ($34.70).

 

Per Bielke, Founder & CEO, Vinolentus

www.vineo.se

Vineo.se is an online wine store created by Vinolentus AB, and owned by both Swedish wine enthusiasts and the German winehouse Rindchen’s Weinkontor. Vineo was launched in February 2013 and holds over 500 different wines. 

What are the main challenges for the online wine trade?

It is of course the Swedish alcohol monopoly, and the laws and regulations that restrict opportunities of the online wine trade in Sweden. Systembolaget has a huge variety of wine in one place, making it easy for the consumer to get a complete picture of the range. Their purchasing volumes also enables them to keep very low prices on cheaper wines. The specific rules governing distance sales logistics also makes transport more complex. Each order must be provided with each individual customer’s address already at the point of shipment and delivered to the customer’s door.

We also have the challenge to reach the Swedish customers with information about our offer at a reasonable cost. Competition and the noise around wine in the media has increased dramatically during recent years because of the monopoly’s new rules. These rules force contractors and agents to market themselves intensively in order to enter or remain in Systembolaget’s stores. Additionally, Systembolaget has worked intensively with the negative PR surrounding the online wine trade and states that it in most cases is illegal, even though the vast majority pay Swedish VAT and alcohol tax.

When do you think Sweden will become an open market?

It’s very hard to say. It all depends on how strong the positions the EU and the wine producing countries will take on the issue. In Sweden, there are not sufficient political forces working for a demonopolisation. What speaks for a change is that it is, with today’s rules, practically impossible for a small- or medium-sized winery to enter the Swedish market.

What trends do you see in Sweden?

The most obvious trend is that Swedish consumers are becoming more and more interested and demanding when it comes to wine. This is seen both in an increasing average price of a bottle of wine sold by Systembolaget and on restaurants’ wine lists. A countervailing trend is that a larger and larger share of the cheaper wines nowadays are sold in box. The second trend is that biodynamic and organically produced wines are in increasing demand. Otherwise, it is Italy who rules and Swedes still mostly drink powerful red wines.

Who are your customers?

Our customers are those who are curious about the huge range of quality wines that never reaches Systembolaget. With our simple and unpretentious website, we reach customers in a fairly large mid-price segment.

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