Posts Tagged ‘Vinmonopolet’

There is a fairly strong public support for the government alcohol stores in Norway and Sweden. (I don’t know enough about public opinion in Iceland or Finland to discuss their situation). There are, however, some issues to consider when you move a particular group of legal foodstuffs out of general distribution.

I have given some quite positive coverage of the Swedish  Systembolaget shops in the past. Their bigger shops have a fine range of beers, while the smaller ones are more hit-and-miss. But these shops exist within a political and legal framework, and there is a broad consensus to keep them. And the border trade keeps the prices at decent levels, at least compared to Norway.

But there is one aspect that provokes me. That is when Systembolaget moves into the political domain to argue for the status quo. A recent case is an interview with the chairman of the board of Systembolaget on the web site of the Swedish temperance movement, where he tries to ridicule those in favour of direct sale of beer and wine from small scale producers.

But we are talking about much more than a newspaper article here. It’s a governmental monopoly that spends a lot of taxpayer’s money to convince public opinion that things should stay as they are.

Systembolaget, Lund

Far better than in Denmark?

I quote the Swedish columnist Mattias Kroon in Sydsvenskan (the translation is probably not 100%, but you get the point):

Systembolaget foresaw many years ago that one might question the role of the monopoly for competiton reasons. They therefore had to run a publicity campaign to give the impression that they had public opinion on their side. In 2002, Systembolaget gave the contract to the company Forsman & Bodenfors.

The aim of this was to avoid that you and me and the rest of the people don’t get the idea that we could buy wine in cozy little wine stores, in cheese shops – or why not as take-away in restaurants. Like in all other civilized countries. The monopoly and the PR company wanted us to feel that such a behavior is a bit dangerous, threatening and unsafe. With a huge budget they managed to form public opinion, give a slanted message, convince – in short: to manipulate us to approve of Systembolaget as such and to make us believe that everyone else feels the same. Well written stories, selected statistics, good commercials. Just what any other gigantic company dose to promote its message and its brand name. Fair enough.

The difference is that the Systembolaget message about the splendor of the monopoly is allowed to stand there, unchallenged. There is no equal competitor or organization to match their promotional budget. Legal? It seems so. Democratic? Doubtful. When a state monopoly runs heavy marketing we usually call it propaganda. And you pay for it. With your money and your freedom of choice.

(There is more in the original article, go ahead and read it, use Google translate if needed).

Vinmonopolet in Norway does not play an active role in the political arena in the same way. They do not have large posters in their stores boasting of the many lives  that have been saved because of the monopoly. I hope it stays so.

If the health authorities and the government wants to argue for the present system, they are free to do so. But let’s not muddle the discussion by having the monopoly companies as political actors in their own right. It’s not only a matter of principle. As we see in Sweden, this arrogance may also cause a backfire.

South of the border: Norwegians waiting for Systembolaget to open.



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A dream

One of the top three micro breweries in Norway has sent an e-mail to Vinmonopolet, the state alcohol monopoly, with a modest proposal. They ask if they could pick 10 of the biggest stores across Norway and give them the permission to order special products in small quantities, giving those particularly interesed in beer the opportunity to buy a bottle or two. To avoid this getting too bureaucratic, the producers/importers should be able to offer the products directly to the stores.

I’d like to add that this would in no way undermine the system, but it would meet the needs of a growing number of consumers. Some of these beers are now available in bars and restaurants in three or four cities, but it is not convenient for everyone to visit those places.

I promise to report any reply to this.

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Recent Norwegian figure show that the attitude of the Norwegian alcohol monopoly Vinmonopolet towards beer is of vital importance. In January this year they has a special focus on beer, adding a fine range of domestic and imported beers to their range, giving them prominent shelf space and even a writeup in their in store magazine.

With a ban on all advertising of alcohol, this gives results. Sales of beer in Vinmonopolet were up 43 per cent from January last year to January this year, and this trend has continues in February.

These figures are from one of the biggest dailies, Aftenposten, who found  this interesting enough to do a two page spread yesterday. Let’s hope this is the beginning of more beer journalism.

The statistics show that the Christmas beers are dominating the market for stronger beers, but if the current trend continues, we will see more craft beer on the list for 2010.

One thing puzzles me: Why does Singha Lager feature so prominently on the list?

They have also included a table once again showing the price differences between Norway and Sweden.  I won’t go into that again today.

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While January is a tough month in many ways, the Norwegian Vinmonopolet makes the days a little brighter for beer lovers.

25 new beers are in the list of beverages on sale this Saturday. Some of them are being relaunched, some are pale lagers, but the overall quality of this is very impressive.

Belgian Geuze, Italian micros, new beers from Haandbryggeriet and Nøgne ø, Rip Tide and Punk IPA from BrewDog at reasonable prices (for Norway, that is!) as well as decent stuff from England and the US.

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I was checking the beer shelves of my local Vinmonopolet shop on my way home from work the other day, when I overheard a conversation between one of the staff and a customer. Both were ladies in their fifties, and the customer needed some guidance, as she wanted to buy a beer as a present. She had picked a bottle of wine, but she wanted a nice beer as well.

The looked at some Belgian beers, clearly finding this task overwhelming. Some snippets of the conversation:

-This one is a Trappist, I don’t know about the other one.

-I don’t really know anything about beer.

-My colleague is the beer specialist here, and he is not in today.

I intervened and helped the lady select an Ardenne Blond from Haandbryggeriet, a nice beer unlikely to offend anyone.

The staff at the Vinmonopolet stores are, to a large extent, paid to mill arond among the customers giving advice. I believe they have more or less the same number of employees per shop as when everything was kept behind the counter and they had to fetch every bottle. Now most of the shops are self service so we do the carrying ourselves. In the store in question they had already cleared the shelves for the new arrivals that will go on sale 2 May, so they are clearly not too pressed for time.

Strong beer has been sold in the Vinmonopolet shops for around 30 years. The lady in question has probably been working in the system as long. Is it too much to ask that she gets some basic knowledge about this type of goods?

I am sure she can give excellent advice on which Chablis you should serve with your shellfish.

An alternative way of selling beer

An alternative way of selling beer

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