There is a very heated discussion in Sweden at the moment, as the government retail monopoly Systembolaget has changed its policy on the distribution of beer from small domestic breweries.
There is a general election coming up, which means that this also is of interest for the politicians. Lawmakers and bureaucrats are in a bit of a twist – one one side there is pressure for a more liberal approach, allowing direct sales of beer, cider and wine from the producers to the public. On the other hand, this could undermine the monopoly, as foreign producers and their importers won’t have the same possibilities and will probably use legal means to challenge the changes. We are talking about a lucrative market with lots of buying power.
Systembolaget, obviously, want to keep their retail monopoly intact, and they have made some changes from 1 September. Their new rules include: Beer from small scale breweries may be sold in up to ten Systembolaget shops within a 100 kilometer radius from the brewery. The brewery is allowed to do the deliveries themselves. In town and cities, this will mean that the customers will have to visit a number of shops to find beers from different breweries. In rural areas, there will often be less than ten shops within the 100 km radius.
The breweries will still have the option of listing their beers for specioal order through the Systembolaget shops. But they will then have to deliver the beers to the central depot in Örebro. Systembolaget claims that the depot does not have any warehouse capacity, meaning the breweries have to deliver every order by itself, at the brewery’s expense. This does not make sense economically for most of the smaller ones, who are now withdrawing their beers from the special order list.
A better account than the above is to be found on the BeerSweden site, they have published a press release from small scale brewery Beerbliotek (in English).
But I have a personal story to add. Later this week, I plan to visit a new micro brewery in Teveldalen, a conference/ tourist resort an hour’s drive from Trondheim, a stones’s throw from the border with Sweden. I thought I’d use the opportunity to cross the border to Storlien and buy a few Swedish beers. It is some distance to the nearest Systembolaget shop, but they have a network of ombud, meaning you can order your alcohol from Systembolaget and have them delivered to a local supermarket.
This is a modern, hi-tech Nordic country, scoring well on all the indicators for good living, so there is of course a web order form on the web page of the shop in Storlien. I carefully select four beers from the Åre brewery, 60 kilometers further into Sweden, add a few of the more interesting Oktoberfest beers listed in the Systembolaget app, plus a dozen imports from their special order list. I click send on the form, and hope a week is enough for the delivery.
Ten minutes later I get a call. From Sweden. From the man handling the alcohol deliveries at Konsum Storlien. Tyvärr, noen of the beers you have ordered are available through our shop.
-Nor even the ones from the local Åre brewery?
-We don’t get our supplies from Åre. We get them from the regional warehouse in Sundsvall. and they do not carry the Åre beers. And the ones from the special order list – we do not carry them.
One more argument for reforming the system, then. What looks like an impressive network of shops boils down to delivery of Carlsberg and Koskenkorva.