The top distributors in Sweden

Sweden was partially de-monopolised more than 20 years ago and now has more than 1,000 importing companies. Vincent Arrhenius looks at the biggest.

Magdalena Gerger; Takis Soldatos
Magdalena Gerger; Takis Soldatos

Historically, Sweden was a restricted market for alcoholic beverages. Vin & Sprit held four monopolies (producing, exporting, importing, and sales to restaurants) while Systembolaget was the retail monopoly.

In 1995, Vin & Sprit lost all four of their monopolies. In the spring that year, the first competitors of Vin & Sprit were founded. In the beginning, they were mostly former so-called agents that had already been active on the market promoting brands, mainly in the on-trade.

There were soon around 20 new importers in Sweden – then 200. Today, there are more than 1,000. That said, the lion’s share of wine in Sweden is sold by a dozen companies. While some of the major players are single companies, most of them are part of umbrella organisations with two or more importing companies within the group. Each importer can be run as an individual company and offer different services to the on-trade and off-trade.
 

Many of the largest Swedish wine importers also have companies in other Nordic countries, and not always under the same name. Some started as Swedish companies, while others were first founded in another Nordic country. Non-Nordic companies have also entered the Swedish market. An interesting example of that came when wine producer Torres decided to leave their Swedish importer and start their own import business, now known as The Wine Collective.

Here is a list of Sweden’s most important wine importers.

Altia Sweden AB

Altia Sweden is part of the Altia Group, a Finnish group operating in several Nordic and Baltic countries. Altia owns Koskenkorva Vodka, the cognac brands Larsen and Renault, their own wine brands Chill Out and True Colours, as well as traditional Swedish beverages such as O.P. Anderson aquavit and Blossa, a popular mulled wine.

The company also works with partner brands. In the Swedish market, these are Bibendum and Philipson Söderberg. Fairly recently, Altia launched the folkofolk.se website, which includes products from all three companies.

Bibendum has been part of the Altia Group since 2004. It has been part of the Swedish wine trade over several decades under various names: Birger Hellberg, Bror-Eric Berntson, Vinhuset Berntson, Vinhuset Bibendum, and Bibendum, and has no link to the English wine company Bibendum. It has a team of 25 people and a portfolio that includes André Lurton, Distell, Faustino, Bouchard Père et Fils, Codorníu, Chakana Wines, and M. Chapoutier, among others.

Philipson Söderberg is named for two people. In 1954, Nils-Bertil Philipson started as an agent for several French wine producers. Philpson was also one of the founders of the Swedish wine club Munskänkarna that now has around 25,000 members. Around the same time, Sven Söderberg also started an agency and became the Swedish representative for several big spirits brands. In 1989, the two companies merged and have been part of the Altia Group since 2004. They supply the Swedish market from their warehouse in Brunna, handling 2,000 or more orders a day.

Enjoy Wine & Spirits AB

Enjoy Wine & Spirits is part of Gruppo di Luca, along with the food company Di Luca & Di Luca and the restaurant business Deli di Luca. Enjoy started under the name Enosvezia as a specialist in Italian wines. In 2005, the portfolio grew and began to include wines from other countries. Three years later, the company changed the name to Enjoy Wine & Spirits.

The company has a consumer-friendly website, wineandfriends.se, a free printed magazine with more than 20,000 subscribers, and YouTube channels with funny films with CEO Thomas Holstein sabering bottles of Rotari or interviewing famous people about their wine preferences. Enjoy represents approximately 50 wine producers, including Umani Ronchi, Fontanafredda, and Baron de Ley.

Hermansson & Co AB

Hermansson & Co is part of Interbrands, a Nordic umbrella organisation, and is named after the Hermansson family. Johan Hermansson is the current executive chairman, alongside managing director and partner Josef Ståläng. The company has a strong commitment to sustainability and has mapped its carbon output. As part of its commitment, it is looking to increase the number of organic products in its portfolio. At present, the portfolio is dominated by a few larger wine producers such as João Portugal Ramos and Tommasi. The group also includes a Swedish importing company called Providential Wines & Spirits which focuses on low- or non-alcoholic wines.

Nigab

Nigab is part of the Danish group Hans Just. The company supplies Systembolaget with both wine and spirits, as well as being strong within the duty free and travel retail market in the Nordic countries. Nigab has offices in Stockholm, where Systembolaget’s head office is located, and in Gothenburg – which has an important harbour – on the west coast. The portfolio covers spirits, liqueurs, vermouth, fortifieds, and wines with brands like Glenfiddich, Rémy Martin, Cointreau, Campari, Cinzano, Gonázlez Byass, Paul Jaboulet, and Marques de Riscal.

Oenoforos AB

Oenoforos is one of the most interesting wine importers in Sweden. Its founder, Takis Soldatos, is of Greek origin and used to work in the Greek wine industry. Oenoforos supplies Systembolaget with its own brands of inexpensive to mid-priced wines. Soldatos is able to do that by blending imported bulk wine at his blending facility, the Nordic Sea Winery, in Southern Sweden. The innovative packaging on some of the wines has been the key to success. He has, for instance, used colours that are different to those normally associated with wine and created a wine called Vernissage that is sold in a handbag-shaped bag-in-box.

Soldatos also owns a second importer, Carovin, which has premium, super premium, and icon wines in the portfolio. Carovin supplies Systembolaget with wines like Ornellaia and several of the first growths.

Pernod Ricard Sweden AB

Pernod Ricard is a global wine and spirits group with strong spirits brands such as Beefeater, Jameson, Martell, and Havana Club. In 2008, the company bought Swedish-state-owned Vin & Sprit for approximately €5.5bn ($6.5bn), according to Swedish media reports. They later sold most of the brands for around €100m but kept the portfolio’s gem, Absolut Vodka.

Pernod Ricard also has strong New World wine brands such as Jacobs Creek and Stoneleigh, along with European brands like Campo Viejo and Perrier-Jouët. Most Swedish wine importers are stronger on European wines, which makes Pernod Ricard a New World wine importer in comparison.

Solera Beverage Group Sweden AB

Solera Beverage Group Sweden consists of the importing companies BGS Wine Import, PrimeWine, Mondowine, and Multibev.

PrimeWine was founded in 2002 by three ambitious young Swedish wine professionals: Henrik Björck, Filip Grufman, and Peter Stern. One of the interesting things they did was to open Prime Wine Bar, very centrally located in one of Stockholm’s posher areas, offering more than 60 wines by the glass. This allows them to receive producers, host events, and conduct tastings. The company was successful in taking over brands that were already present in the Swedish market and rapidly grew into one of the largest wine importers in Sweden. 

Vingruppen i Norden AB

Vingruppen literally means ‘the wine group’, and it consists of several importers: VinUnic, The Wineagency, Wineworld, Valid Wines, Quaffable Wines, and Vingaraget.

Vinunic was the first company within the group, founded in 1992 by Claes Lindkvist, Stefan Stjärnström, and Mats Engman. Today, the company prides itself on employing wine enthusiasts and sommeliers.

Wineworld Sweden, founded in 2004, is much younger than Vinunic. It has an impressive assortment of wines from the classic Old and New World wine-producing countries. The managing director is Johan Boström.

Viva Wine & Spirits

Viva Wine & Spirits group consists of five importing companies: Chris Wine & Spirits, Giertz Vinimport, Iconic Wines, The Wine Team, and Winemarket. It is co-owned by Björn Wittmark and CEO Emil Sallnäs. According to Viva’s website, they sold more than 30m L in 2015, giving them a 16.8% share of the Swedish wine market. They also claim to have experienced a growth rate of more than 40% per year since 2010. Giertz, founded in 1982 by Martin and Sara Giertz, started out as a family business with a focus on high-quality wines. It was one of the first agents to become an importer after the partial de-monopolisation in 1995. The Giertzes came to realise that the company could not survive on expensive wines sold in small volumes, and so moved into volume wines as well. The last few years, Giertz has experienced very strong growth and is one of the top wine suppliers to Systembolaget. According to their website, they are the largest importer in Sweden, selling more than 11m L in 2013 alone.

The Wine Team Global was founded in 2009 and has experienced a strong growth since the start. In the portfolio are brands such as Blue Nun, P.Lex (a celebrity wine brand of Swedish rapper and sommelier Petter), and Il Barone, the second-bestselling red wine at Systembolaget.

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