How does the Swedish alcohol monopoly work?

Systembolaget was founded in 1955 following centuries of attempts to regulate alcohol consumption in Sweden, for example through the use of measures such as spirit rationing and the introduction of the ration book. For a long time, it was only possible to purchase products over the counter, which resulted in long queues.

The Swedish government operates a monopoly on retail sales of alcoholic beverages. This means that all retail sales of spirits, wine, and beer, with an ABV superior to 3.5 volume percent, takes place through the government-owned company Systembolaget. Systembolaget operates more than 430 stores nationwide and has more than 500 representatives in smaller communities. Goods are sold in the stores without profit maximization, and up-selling is prohibited.

Today stores are more customer-centred, with an extensive range of products, more generous opening hours and well-trained and knowledgeable staff.

When Sweden joined the EU in 1995, the country was allowed to retain its retail sales monopoly on alcohol, but the monopoly on production, import, and export and restaurant sales was abolished, making it possible for businesses to begin importing and selling directly to restaurants. Sigva was founded at this time and we have therefore very long experience within the group.

Figures and statistics

The fixed assortment of Systembolaget consists of about 2500 fixed products and additionally 13.000 in the order-assortment. Four times every year new fixed launches enters the assortment, and there are also many temporary listings.

  • Sales at Systembolaget 2015
  • Beer: 235 109 864 litres
  • Wine: 199 179 656 litres
  • Spirits: 18 599 572 litres
  • Cider: 10 554 800 litres
  • Nonalcoholic beverages: 1 957 745 litres

Tender and purchasing process

A launch plan is sent to all authorized importers describing the products that Systembolaget wishes to add to its range in the coming year; after this follows a tender request specifying the products, down to the smallest detail. Wines that match this description have a chance of being added to the fixed, exclusive or to order range. The wines selected for the fixed range stays there for a longer period.

Tender submissions

The tenders are examined once submitted. Systembolaget may reject any tenders that have not been completed in a correct way, or lack any of the requested information. Some of the product suggestions submitted are then after selected for a taste sampling.

Wine testing

The wines are assessed in a blind test by three independent wine experts and are evaluated individually based on a particular points system. The wines are given scores based on how well they match the required taste profiles. This involves that Systembolaget inspects the submitted samples of the winning wine to ensure that the wine delivered is the same as the tested one.

The wines can score 1-9 points in each test, making the top score sum 27 points. Winners The wine with the highest score wins the launch and the purchaser responsible notifies the importer on the same day.

Further samples must be submitted at this stage for a technical assessment to be performed in a lab.

Start Ten weeks before the launch a crate of the selected wine is sent to Systembolaget. A characterization test is also held, in addition to a tasting for wine critics and journalists. New wines are presented in Systembolaget’s publication, Varunytt, before being launched.

This publication is distributed on the launch day and is available in all stores. The wine is thereafter launched for purchase in the stores. We issue an order to the producer once we receive the launch samples, ten weeks ahead of the launch.