Finland NN - New rules, new game

How tax increases and new regulatory freedoms around lower alcohol drinks are driving changes in Finnish wine consumer behaviour

Like its Scandinavian neighbours, Finland’s wine trade is predominantly guided by an alcohol monopoly. Government-run Alko is the only place to buy alcoholic beverages higher than 5.5% abv and although they observe global trends and listen to advice from importers, they have the final say about what make it onto Finnish wine shelves.

Before January 1st of this year Finns could only buy alcohol up to 4.5% abv from regular retailers; from that day, they could buy up to 5.5% ABV from the supermarket. While 1% may not seem like a lot, there is plenty of anticipation about the improvements to choice and quality that can be made for wines at this level. The lessening of the restrictions is also reflective of a slight shift in Finnish drinking habits, as we examine in our Finland Landscapes 2018 reportAlko Logo 150x150 - New rules, new game

This latest Wine Intelligence report focusing on the wine market in Finland shows a potential for growth in the wine industry – relaxing government restrictions allows for more choice and availability of different wines outside of the country’s alcohol monopoly, and a greater proportion of Finns now say that they are increasingly driven by food choices when selecting wine.

Traditionally a vodka-drinking nation, Finland is moving towards lower alcohol products. This journey appears to be a shift from spirits to wine and beer and the logical next step is to consider lower alcohol wines (and beers). A key finding of Finland Landscapes 2018 report is that there is a growth in awareness and consideration of low alcohol (up to 5.5%) wines, which are now available outside of the monopoly retailer Alko thanks to the recent legislative change. In addition, a recent tax increase on wine is having a knock-on effect on prices of full strength wine, so value for money is becoming an increasingly important driver in Finland.

Another key catalyst of change in the Finnish wine market stems from importers being able to list a greater variety of wines through the Alko website directly – a similar policy to that adopted by the neighbouring Systembolaget retail monopoly in Sweden. As this digital channel enables both a quicker and less complex process than getting wine through to shelves in stores, market experts suggest that this is contributing to consumers embracing wine exploration.

In addition, sparkling wine (which tends to be lower in alcohol than full strength still wine, typically around 11% ABV) continues to grow with Finnish consumers enjoying sparkling wine across of a broader range of less formal occasions. Cava is still the market leader in Finland, although the global Prosecco boom is still very much evident.

January 1st also saw tax increases covering all full strength alcoholic beverages – including wine. Since 2014 more Finns have been concerned about getting value for money and this will only continue as prices keep on rising. Significantly more Finnish wine drinkers are getting their wine from duty free or ferries from Estonia (the ‘Calais of Finland’), and seeing as the brands on offer are the same as in Alko, price is obviously the driver.

A forward-thinking nation, the Finns are concerned about sustainability and health, something that is reflected in our Landscape report findings. The organic and vegan craze is extending to wine, and recyclable PET bottles have shown impressive conversion to purchase and affinity ratings in our qualitative research.

More information can be found in our Finland Landscapes 2018 report published 16 February 2018.

Author: Luke Catterson