Systembolaget: Sweden's alcohol monopoly
This morning I made a presentation to the Systembolaget buying team on PET packaging for wine. Then Johan Bostrom, MD of Wine World, who is hosting me here took me to see a Systembolaget store.
Systembolaget is the Swedish alcohol monopoly - they sell all the wine sold in Sweden. You can read about them on their website, which has an English section: http://www.systembolaget.se/Applikationer/Knappar/InEnglish/
The store I visited here in Stockholm is one of their flagship outlets, and the range of wines on sold was impressive. Yes, there's a huge section devoted to bag-in-box, which accounts for 50-60% of all sales (the exact figure is quite seasonal; Tetrapak is another 8%). But there's also a fine wine section that would match the selection of any independent wine merchant in London. For example, the Portuguese selection included Poeira, Pintas, Crasto TN and Maria Therese, Vallado Touriga Nacional, Dona Maria Reserva and Vale Dona Maria CV - all on the shelf at prices similar to those in London.
Apparently, when rare wines come in there are queues outside the door. When DRC is released, people queue for two days, hiring students to line up in their place and such like.
One of the attractive features of the monopoly is that there is no price promotion.
As well as buying from the monopoly's own selection, consumers can also buy from a special list - there's a delay of about a week until the wines come in, and you have to go to the stores to pick the wine up physically: there are no internet or mail order sales here.
There are just shy of 70 accredited wine journalists here, and plenty of tastings are organized by the 400 different importers. The monopoly runs press tastings when they offer new releases. Journalists are important here in helping promote wine sales because of the lack of price promotion and strict rules about advertising. Even in specialist wine magazines, one-fifth of the space of alcohol adverts has to consist of a health warning, and you aren't allowed to associate your product with situations, such as outdoor living or dining with friends.