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Trifling interest in retail alcohol sales from restaurants and bars: "We haven't sold a single bottle"

Reforms to Finland's alcohol laws recently made it possible for restaurants and bars to start selling beer and cider to customers for home use. Very few people seem to be interested.

Olutteollisuuden trendejä ennustettiin tällä viikolla Brysselissä pidetyillä alan messuilla.
Image: AOP

Finland's comprehensive reform to its Alcohol Act entered into force in its entirety on March 1. It takes a few important steps towards freeing up the country's notoriously stringent alcohol laws. One of the changes it has made is the new ability of restaurants and bars to engage in the retail sale of alcohol.

The eating and drinking establishments must first apply for a licence, after which they can sell beers, ciders and other under 5.5 percent alcoholic beverages from 9 am to 9 pm, observing the same rules that other stores selling alcoholic beverages must follow.

Few restaurants applying for licenses

Not many restaurants and bars seem to be interested in applying for the license, and customers seem to be disinterested in taking advantage of the new option. The average Finn seems to prefer to buy their alcohol when they are out doing their shopping, and not from the counter of a local restaurant or bar.

Tirra, a restaurant in the southern city of Lahti, applied for the license as soon as the possibility presented itself.

"We've got a wide variety of beers for sale, including some rare brands. We want to give our customers the option of buying them to take home," says Antti Sirvo, the man behind Tirra.

Unfortunately, sales have been very sluggish.

"Even so, I think the reform was a good idea. It's good customer service," Sirvo says.

Since March 1, Finland's National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health Valvira has granted a license to only 300 of Finland's 8,400 restaurants that are licensed to serve alcohol.

"It remains to be seen if this is going to turn out to be a viable business for restaurant owners. The word has definitely gotten out that customer sales have been pretty negligible," says Valvira's Kari Kunnas.

Few customers buying booze from bars

Riku-Matti Lehikoinen, senior inspector for southern Finland's regional state administrative agency, says his organisation has received very few applications.

"Restaurant interest in retail alcohol sales has been quite low so far. It is definitely not a hit product. One establishment's owner said that his place hasn't sold a single bottle," Lehikoinen says.

"This is understandable when you consider that there is a supermarket around the corner in more densely populated places that sells the same product at a much cheaper price. In remote areas and the archipelago, the permits could be really useful," he says.

Lehikoinen says that he has also received reports of customer frustration that the new license does not extend to retail sales of wine.

"This has clearly been a disappointment," he says.

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