Booze sales only up slightly, despite relaxed alcohol laws

The spike in sales is being attributed to the long hot summer Finland experienced during 2018, rather than a rush of people drinking more.

Duty free alcohol on ferry to Estonia / Credit: News Now Finland

The sale of alcohol in Finland only increased a tiny amount during 2018, despite warnings that relaxed alcohol laws would lead to greater consumption of booze.

Tew alcohol laws were introduced in January 2018, and allowed the sale of stronger beers, ciders and long drinks up to 5.5% in supermarkets. Previously, they had only been available in state-run Alko stores.

Critics of the relaxed laws predicted that it would have a dramatic impact on consumption of booze, but the latest figures show there was only a a very small increase in alcohol purchases in Finland over the last year – and even then, it was mostly due to a spike in summer drinking during an exceptionally hot few months.

The new figures from the Finnish Grocery Trade Association PTY showed a 0.5% increase in alcohol sales in Alko and supermarkets during 2018; and a 1% growth in passenger alcohol imports during the same time.

“The biggest reason behind that small increase was actually very warm summer what we had last year in Finland, and actually if you look more at the details, without that
very hot summer the development should be minus in total numbers” explains Kari Luoto, PTY’s CEO.

The same increase can also be seen in water and beverage sales in grocery stores during last summer, which was the second hottest on record. However, beer and cider retail sales actually decreased by 7% with the biggest ‘winner’ of the liberalisation policy being long drinks which say a five-fold increase over the previous year.

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The move to liberalise Finland’s alcohol sales laws was held up in parliament for several years, mostly by centre-right politicians including more conservative members of the National Coalition Party and the Centre Party, although it was an NCP politician Jaana Pelkonen who spearheaded the reform in parliament.

Writing in her blog today, Pelkonen said that the bill she championed was not just about getting stronger alcohol in supermarkets but also about relaxing opening times of bars and restaurants, and making it legal for small batch producers – like craft breweries – to sell their products directly from the production line without needing a food license as had been required previously.

The relaxed alcohol laws also generated some important revenue for the state’s coffers.

“The objective of our parliament was to get €100 million more alcohol tax incomes but now the final result would be approximately €150 million” PTY’s Luoto tells News Now Finland.