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Finland's six-year alcohol sales slump ends

A law change permitting stronger drinks to be sold in grocery stores and other shops helped to triple the sales of long drink alcopops last year.

Lonkerotölkkejä tehtaan hihnalla, työntekijä valvoo.
Long drink cans on the assembly line. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

The overall sale of alcohol in Finland has been in decline since 2011, but last year that figure went up slightly, according to the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira).

A law change in early 2018 raised the alcohol limit on alcoholic drinks sold in supermarkets from 4.7 percent to 5.5 percent. That minor adjustment brought a sales uptick for the first time in six years, even though the growth was just 0.6 percent from 2017. In terms of 100 percent pure alcohol, the total per capita consumption - of people over the age of 15 - in 2018 was 10.4 litres.

Before the alcohol law was changed, many health groups warned it would lead to a spike in alcohol consumption, but so far that has not appeared to have occurred.

Valvira said the small uptick is mostly due to the extended retail rights. Sales at the national alcohol monopoly Alko fell drastically, but supermarkets and other outlets saw clear growth in beverage sales.

Long drink booms

Since the law change, the product that saw the highest sales were alcopops known locally as long drink (often called lonkero). The total consumption of the grey-coloured, bubbly grapefruit and gin concoction rose by 42 percent in one year, while all other alcoholic beverages sold in supermarkets and shops continued to slump.

The spurt is due largely to consumers choosing the stronger variety of "lonkero". Comparatively speaking, sales of the lighter long drinks (4.7 percent alcohol) fell by 45 percent, while the stronger version (5.5 percent alcohol) actually tripled, rising 204 percent in 2018.

No expert at the time suggested such an ambivalent change in sales when the bill made its comment rounds in 2017.

"We weren't estimating exact figures, but we knew that long drink would do better than strong beer and cider," alcohol researcher Esa Österberg said.

The reason he gives for the stronger long drink's popularity is the taste.

"The stronger long drink is prepared using a gin-based recipe, which consumers clearly appreciate," Österberg said.

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