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Valvira: Alcohol reform did not lead to increase in booze sales

Booze sales fell by two percent last year.

The alcohol reform allowed stronger beverages to be sold at grocery stores, expanding the array on offer. Image: Markku Rantala / Yle

New figures show that alcohol sales in Finland continued their long-term decline even after a 2018 reform led to stronger alcohol being available in supermarkets.

In 2018 sales rose by 0.1 percent after the reforms were brought in at the start of the year, but after that sales declined by two percent in 2019, according to the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Valvira.

Thomas Karlsson, chief specialist on alcohol policy at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), said that tax changes may have had an impact.

"Taxes were raised at the start of last year and that made alcohol more expensive," said Karlsson. "But we have to remember that there has been a downward trend in alcohol consumption for ten years, and that is always clearly in the background."

The slack has not been taken up by imports from Estonia, the traditional source of cheap booze for Finns.

According to THL the amount of alcohol imported by travellers to Finland fell by 14 percent in 2019, when expressed as litres of pure alcohol.

The 2018 reform changed the law so that food stores could sell alcoholic drinks up to 5.5 percent in strength.

Estonian surprise

Last summer Estonia lowered its alcohol taxes, which was expected to encourage more Finns to head south to buy alcohol. However that did not seem to happen.

The THL says that in terms of pure alcohol, passenger imports of alcohol dropped by 12.4 percent last year compared to 2018. Measured by litre, passenger imports edged up slightly.

Passenger imports account for about 14 percent of all alcohol consumption in Finland.

The 2018 alcohol reform meanwhile was expected to increase consumption of stronger beer (with an alcohol percentage of 4.7-5.5), which for the first time could be sold at grocery stores, petrol stations and kiosks, rather than just at state-owned Alko shops as in the past.

Sales of beer with over 4.7 percent alcohol did rise by 16 percent last year while those with lower alcohol content declined by four percent. However milder beer still dominates the Finnish beer scene with a market share of at least 85 percent.