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THL: Alcohol retail sales down, bar sales up

Increased alcohol sales in Finland are signs of confidence in the economy, according to a THL researcher.

Oluthana ravintolassa.
File photo. Image: Janne Lindroos / Yle

Alcohol sales at Finnish restaurants and bars last year were just over one percentage point higher than in 2016, while retail sales slightly decreased during that period, according to preliminary figures from THL, Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare released on Tuesday.

Restaurant and bar sales were up by 1.2 percent year-on-year in 2017 with those sales comprising some 13.4 percent of all alcohol sold in the country that year, THL reports.

Retail sales of booze went down by 0.7 percent in 2017 compared to the year before. Some 18.8 percent of booze purchases were imported from abroad, the health agency said.

THL's senior researcher on alcohol policy Thomas Karlsson said that when taking the retail sales decline into consideration, he thinks the increased restaurant sales are significant.

Researcher: Improved economy behind increase

He said that better sales at bars and restaurants reflect improvement in the economy.

"Alcohol consumption [data] tells us what is happening in society. When things improve more money is spent on [alcohol] and is reflected in bar sales. Now that there is a little light at the end of the tunnel, consumer confidence in the economy has improved," Karlsson said.

He said that people tend to drink less during recessions, saying that alcohol consumption in the country has been steadily declining since 2008's global economic downturn.

There was a similar decrease in alcohol sales at the beginning of the 1990s recession, after heavy growth during the better economic times of the 1980s, according to Karlsson.

Taxes on alcohol in Finland were raised five times between the years of 2008-2014, another factor Karlsson attributes to the steadily declining sales.

"Taxes and the economic downturn are the two main factors behind the decline in alcohol consumption over the past ten years," he said.

More than Sweden, more like Denmark

In terms of pure alcohol content averages, each Finnish resident over the age of 15 consumed a total of 10.8 litres of 100 percent alcohol, THL reports.

Compared to the year before, consumption of beer in 2017 declined by 1.5 percent, ciders went down by some 2.1 percent, liqueur sales fell by 0.2 percent while sales of fortified wines remained steady, the agency said.

The practice of lugging back booze to Finland from Estonia also went down following increases in Estonian alcohol taxes. Imports went down by some 18.8 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year.

Compared to alcohol consumption in other Nordic countries Finland is most in step with Denmark. Finnish residents over the age of 15 consumed roughly two litres more of pure alcohol per year than their counterparts in Sweden.

THL said it plans to release its final report of last year's alcohol consumption data in April.

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