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Friday's papers: Reformed alcohol law fallout, President's response to criticism, toy market

Finland's press covers different views of changes in alcohol sales, a presidential rebuttal, and the market for toys since the bankruptcy of two major chains.

Lonkero-pakkauksia pinossa ruokakaupassa.
Long drinks combining gin and grapefruit soda were first sold at the 1952 Summer Olympics. Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

Ilta-Sanomat features a story on the effects of the reformed Alcohol Act that came into force in early 2018. One year later, the brewer's federation and the national health watchdog have "completely different evaluations" of the repercussions of the new statues, the tabloid says.

Among other things, the new law allowed for stronger alcoholic drinks to be sold in shops and kiosks. Alko's business manager Kari Pennanen tells IS that overall sales at his state-owned chain of liquor stores had fallen by over 8 percent in 2018 on the previous year. He says the sale of "lighter products" such as non-alcoholic drinks, rosé and white wine, and champagne have grown since 2017, while the sale of long drinks, beer and cider have fallen.

Kari Luoto of the Finnish Grocery Trade Association says the sales of long drinks in particular have gone up by over 60 percent in food shops, and sales of beer and cider have dropped off slightly in the last year.

Research professor Pia Mäkelä of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) says the reformed alcohol law has brought an end to a steady decline in alcohol consumption in Finland "or it has even started to go up, which would not be a good thing in terms of the health hazards," she says.

Finland's Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry will have its final statistics on 2018 sales in February, but CEO Riikka Pakarinen tells IS that preliminary data shows that more strong beers and ciders were sold in 2018, but that total sales by litre were down. Mid-strength beer continues to dominate the market, accounting for 90 percent of beer sales.

"Non-alcoholic drinks are selling better, and at this stage, it looks as if the fears surrounding the Alcohol Act reforms have not come true, because there has not been a surge in alcohol sales. Higher taxes on alcohol have reduced sales," she tells IS, adding that taxation on alcoholic drinks in Finland must be lowered so that it is "closer to European levels".

President's last word

Verkkouutiset features a comment from Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in response to criticism of his choice of words in his annual New Year's Day address to the nation.

Green MP Ozan Yanar joined several others in criticising Niinistö's phrase asking migrant communities to "bear responsibility by guiding their own".

Yanar took to social media on Thursday to comment on why he felt the President's choice of words was inappropriate, urging his readers to imagine that a Finn was accused of an extremely offensive crime in a foreign country, after which the president of that country encouraged the immigrant groups there to "guide their own".

The Turkish-born MP said it was an "absurd" suggestion from the point of view of an individual who had nothing to do with it.

Niinistö responded to Yanar's tweet on Twitter by explaining that "I spoke of 'those here', i.e. all individuals in Finland, regardless of their background. Both in my speech and in my interview with Helsingin Sanomat, I did not use collective expressions like immigrant community or group, because I was taking about individuals."

Changing toy market

And to finish, Helsingin Sanomat reports on how the retail market for toys in Finland has shrunk to between 10 and 20 stores since the sudden bankruptcy of the Danish parent company behind the BR and Toys 'R' Us chains in late 2018.

The toy industry association Leluyhdistys tells that the wholesale trade in toys grew by 11.7 percent in 2017, but that most of the toys sold in Finland today aren't sold in dedicated toy stores, but in large supermarkets and the like. The owner of the Prisma chain of big box stores, S-Group, says its toy sales have fallen by a few percentage points every year.

S-Group's Emilia Lehtonen tells HS that the reason for flagging sales is the "changing nature of play. Children are switching to mobile and computer games at younger and younger ages."

Kesko representative Hannele Åberg tells the paper that sales of toys have grown in the last few years in K-Citymarket locations.

"At first, when the electronic games and digitalization hit, it hit toy sales very hard. But toys have made a good comeback in the last few years, in our experience. Children will always need to play," she says.

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