Scandinavia A glimpse into the Swedish beer market 1970 and 1985

Discussion in 'Europe' started by Crusader, Feb 22, 2013.

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  1. Crusader

    Crusader Aspirant (200) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    Inspired by the thread on the state of the American beer scene in 1970s, before the craft beer movement, I thought I would show a few images that can serve to compare and contrast the American situation and the Swedish situation respectively during this time period. A bit of beer history from across the atlantic.

    Some basic information about the beer market in Sweden at this time is that retail sales of alcohol stronger than 3.5% could only be sold via the monopoly stores instituted in 1955. From 1965-1977 grocery stores were allowed to sell 4.5% beer, where sales are dominated by pale lagers. Swedish lager beers pretty much to a fault would have been adjunct lagers (a situation which would only start to be revised in the 80s and onwards).

    So here is the list of all of the beers sold via the government monopoly here in 1970:
    For a better view:

    On the left page are the Swedish beers, on the right the imported beers. Alot of the Swedish beers would have been regional brands and so the number of brands would have been much smaller in an individual store. The stores would offer the beers which had a local demand.

    I count to one ale, Carnegie Export porter, which also distinguishes itself by costing a bit more than the rest of the Swedish beers, which all have remarkably similar prices. 2.10 crowns for a 45cl can, and 1.40 or 1.38 crowns for a 33cl bottle. The rest appear to be pale adjunct lagers ( the word "export" refering to the abv strenght of the beer, above 5%, which was illegal for sale between 1923-1955 and only allowed for export, whilst very little beer was actually ever exported). Among the imported beers I count three ales. Bass, Worthingtons and Guinness Extra Stout. The other imports are pale lagers.

    On to 1985 (two pages)

    Alot of the regional brands listen in 1970 have disappeared and in their place there's an increased number of beers with English names to them, many of them from the same brewery among the few big ones still left. Instead of the regional or local beers you have attempts at branded beer, insomuch as it is possible in a market where alcohol advertising is heavily restricted. Alot of the regional Swedish brands had been discontinued inbetween 1970-1985 in the continued industry consolidation process and the closing of other breweries (alot of them ran into trouble when the government banned the sale of 4.5% beer in the grocery channel in 1977, some had invested heavily in expanding production to meet demand which was later eliminated). I count to two dark Swedish lagers, one Swedish bock beer and once again Carnegie Porter. Among the imported ales there is once again Bass and Guinness but also McEwans, and an altbier in the form of Diebels alt.

    And again it is doubtful that all those brands would have been available in every store, so the assortment of beers would have been rather bleak to say the least.
    GrumpyOldTroll, bark, Duff27 and 3 others like this.
  2. PaulQuinn

    PaulQuinn Initiate (174) May 27, 2011 British Columbia (Canada)

    That's interesting. I think that's what happened all over the world in all (or almost all) industries. Big companies buying smaller ones, providing a cheaper product, driving other to do the same and thus decreasing variability. But I guess government monopoly also was an important factor as in other countries without state controlled beer sales (like Germany or Belgium) several small breweries manage to survive until this worldwide beer diversity revival.

    But how is it in Sweden nowadays? I reckon the monopoly continues and so prices are higher there than in neighbor countries. How's beer variety at these store? How is it to open a microbrewery there and sell your beer?
  3. Crusader

    Crusader Aspirant (200) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    Yes the Swedish beer market showed a similar path of development in alot of respects, but with some unique twists due to the monopoly situation. For example, by the 1970s Pripp-Bryggerierna had become the biggest brewing entity in Sweden, it had 70% of the market. This company was bought by our government in 1974. The government already owned its second largest competitor Falcon by then (look for Pripps, Three Towns and Falcon brand names in the lists to get a sense of what was government owned or was to become government owned, add to this a bunch of the other brands as well since Pripp-bryggerierna controlled some 70% of the market and I'm not sure just how high it got).

    Government ownership remained until the 1980s when it was privatized again. There were plans made to make the government owned brewery (part of a host of government owned enterprises and industries) the only brewery in Sweden and legislation was written to that effect, but it didn't pass. From what I've read there was enough push-back from the few remaining private breweries that the government abandoned the idea. Worth noting is that the manufacture of spirits was already in government hands, the government held a monopoly on producing spirits in Sweden as well as the importation of wine and spirits and export strenght beer from abroad. In 1917 all Swedish spirit makers were bought out by the government. Among other things they owned what was to become Absolut vodka for example. This monopoly ended in 1994 when we entered the EU whilst the production assets/facilities and brands where sold in 2008. So beer was supposed to be in government hands as well, but it didn't turn out that way fortunately.

    Compared to back then it's like night and day. Here are the current statistics of the beers available nationally in the monopoly stores:

    Type - Number of brands/container size
    Pale lager 282
    Dark lager 69
    Porter och Stout 86
    Ale 348
    Wheat beer 25

    Here is the link to the monopoly website which lists the beers available in stores nationwide, you simply click at the page numbers down at the bottom of the list to go through the list.

    Different stores will have different assortments and number of brands and container sizes available depending on size of the store and if the store is designated as a store which recieves most of the new releases or not, but as a consumer you can order any beer out of these to your local store without any extra fee, so you essentially have access to these beers if you care to wait a few days. On top of this there's a second tier with products that aren't on store shelves but that can be ordered (by the case only typically) via the monopoly and delivered to your local store:

    Type - Number of brands/container sizes
    Pale lager 303
    Dark lager 70
    Porter och Stout 97
    Ale 512
    Wheat beer 46

    If a beer in this tier sells well enough they can get a spot on the shelves in some of the stores.

    So quantity and variety wise alot has happened since 1985. I can't really give any information about what it's like for the micro breweries to operate in Sweden, but what is evident by the statistics released by the monopoly annually is that most microbreweries are growing their sales, though they still make up a tiny portion of the Swedish beer market. They are helped greatly by the tenders for new releases that the monopoly decides on for each year, with both set and flexible launches. The monopoly essentially makes a wishlist for a particular product with particular specs and then the breweries provide samples to be judged by blind taste testing and against the specifications that were decided upon and the winning beer wins a release. Depending on the style of beer a beer can get released in alot of stores in large volumes, or in fewer stores in smaller volumes, more mainstream/volume styles of beer obviously get broader distribution in more stores. But if sales are good for the microbrewed brands in the stores that they are sold, they should be able to expand their footprint. Also a brewery has the ability to have their beers stocked in the three nearest monopoly stores, as a way to help them gain a foothold in the market. There are probably a myriad of other aspects to mention, but I think I've covered some of the more essential parts.
    bark and PaulQuinn like this.
  4. bark

    bark Poo-Bah (5,805) Jan 1, 2004 Sweden

    And before 1995, Swedes were only allowed to bring 2 litres of beer from abroad. And you had to be outside of Sweden for 24 hours, too.
    Crusader likes this.
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