Perspectives: doing business in Sweden

Sunday, 29. April 2018 - 14:00

Sweden, a country of 10m people in Scandinavia, is a monopoly market.  Yet although an estimated 60 percent of wines are sold through Systembolaget, which can only be accessed by tender, Sweden is a dynamic, wine-loving market that’s in growth. James Lawrence asks people who are already exporting there about the secret to success in Sweden.

Andrea Franchetti, Tenuta di Trinoro

Andrea Franchetti, owner/winemaker, Tenuta di Trinoro, Tuscany, Italy
Tenuta di Trinoro entered the Swedish market 10 years ago. My impression today is that Sweden is one of the most sophisticated, buoyant markets in Europe for premium Italian wines. The market overall is growing at an impressive rate, although demand for Tenuta di Trinoro remains stable and has not increased dramatically. As you might expect, the on-trade leads the way in sales of higher-priced wines, although demand is increasing overall in the Systembolaget monopoly.

Of course, if your goal is to shift large volumes, then Systembolaget must be your priority, rather than restaurants and hotels. The process of applying for listings is lengthy, bureaucratic and time-consuming, so patience is key. In terms of our brand, Systembolaget was never an option as Tentuta di Trinoro always does better in markets full of smaller, privately owned retailers. More than 99 percent of our sales are via the premium on-trade — our pricing/small volumes makes us prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of Swedish consumers in the retail market. Major urban centres continue to dominate wine sales; Stockholm and Gothenburg should be your first ports of call, if the goal is to break into the on-trade. It’s a competitive arena but thankfully Sweden, like Norway or Denmark, is still a great market for premium wines because there is no domestic supply.

Siegfried Pic, export director, Louis Jadot, Beaune, France

Siegfried Pic, export director, Louis Jadot, Beaune, France
Louis Jadot has been selling wine in Sweden for over 25 years. Sales are increasing and I have noticed a significant growth of interest in premium wines. There is more and more wine knowledge and people are looking for wines with identity and personality. That said, producers always want more growth, but at the moment I am satisfied with our performance in this market.

Yet this is an extremely challenging place in which to do business; Sweden is a monopoly market, so you can’t launch or sell the wines you would like, but rather the wines that the monopoly wants. As I always say, when a brand has a listing in Sweden it is (reasonably) secure, but it is extremely difficult to get new listings. Therefore most new players head for the on-trade, the only part of the market where competition is allowed. This is essentially the only option for newcomers wishing to export into Sweden — head for the major urban centres and don’t expect instant returns on your investment. Patience is key, as Systembolaget is unlikely to take any brand seriously before it builds up a reasonable presence in Sweden’s buoyant on-trade.

Marchese Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga, San Leonardo

Marchese Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga, owner, San Leonardo, Trentino, Italy
San Leonardo has been present in the Swedish market for five years, although we are still something of an outsider, representing a little-known region of Italy and producing small volumes. My current perception is that the market is still a relatively immature one, although tastes are becoming more sophisticated and organic wines are now very trendy.

Nevertheless, the Swedish market is quite fragmented and expanding only in certain segments.

Another challenge is the lack of information/feedback smaller brands encounter due to the limited volumes that are sold outside of the monopoly. Working with the monopoly offers some stability in terms of guaranteeing a certain volume of sales, although it can be a dangerous market as brands are often delisted rapidly, if the monopoly decides to do so. Moreover, brands must accept a certain lack of control as often the bulk of sales are negotiated through the monopoly stores.

The on-trade is therefore the key destination for small volume brands, despite the massive competition for listings. There are many distributors who all work with the monopoly; it is not so easy to judge how they’re managing your brand, due to their strong if opaque relationship with Systembolaget. In essence, this is a market where a sustained effort in marketing and brand presence may not make much difference in terms of overall recognition and sales.

So my final advice to prospective brands is this: if you represent an already well-established brand, there is definitely space for you in Sweden. However, if you are a producer looking to create a unfamiliar brand from scratch, you may find the monopoly difficult to engage with, which is the only avenue for firms hoping to shift a certain amount of volume in Sweden.

 

Elizaveta Le Floch, export director, Champagne Deutz

Elizaveta Le Floch, export director, Champagne Deutz, Champagne, France
Deutz has been exporting to Sweden for many decades, although our performance in this market has admittedly been sporadic. I recall a significant milestone in 1952, when our wines were served at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies; in terms of recent history, Deutz started to really focus on expanding our market share in 1999.

What continues to impress me today is the high level of wine knowledge — there’s a big and also very eclectic interest in Sweden for all types of wine, ranging from the “traditionalist” school to newer trends like natural wines. Prosecco is currently in high demand, as are rosé wines and Burgundy. However, the Champagne category is also in good health as Swedish consumers tend to trade up from entry-level sparkling wines, which of course benefits us. Demand from the monopoly retail organisation, Systembolaget, is increasing on a yearly basis; the on-trade is also very buoyant as the government reduced VAT from 25 percent to 15 percent, which has naturally boosted consumer demand for premium products.

But on the flip side, working with Systembolaget does present major challenges. When Deutz really got started in 1999, our goal was simply to gain distribution with the Systembolaget, as we presumed Deutz would keep its listing forever. Today, however, it is becoming more challenging to work with the retailer as they track the performance of your brand quite aggressively, keeping their eyes open to new, cheaper brands. Our “value-for-the-money” image has probably been vital in maintaining our position in this regard. In addition, competition for listings in the on-trade is intense; firms need deep pockets if they hope to build their brand in restaurants.

In terms of geographical areas, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö are the key destinations for export brands. Sweden’s several resorts are also important, depending on the season, of course. What is particularly interesting today is that the market is clearly divided between the on-trade and off-trade. The two segments show different facets: the Systembolaget is dominated by mass-market brands; in the big cities, high-profile restaurants tend to shy away from entry-level wines and focus on premium. This puts Sweden at a major advantage over other key European markets. Nevertheless, I cannot advise strongly enough that brands should not simply focus on one distribution channel. Both Systembolaget and the on-trade are vital avenues if you wish to successfully build a brand in Sweden.
Interviews by James Lawrence

This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2018 of Meininger's Wine Business International. For more great articles, subscribe to the magazine or sign up for the newsletter.