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Systembolaget ( ; colloquially known as systemet "the system" or bolaget "the company"; literal English translation: the System Company) is a government owned chain of liquor stores in Swedenmarker. It is the only retail store allowed to sell alcoholic beverages that contain more than 3.5% (by volume) alcohol. Systembolaget also sells alcohol-free beverages. To buy alcoholic beverages at Systembolaget one has to be 20 years of age or older.

Governing laws

There are several laws and rules governing how Systembolaget stores operate, such as:

  • All products, including beer cans and bottles (but excepting products that aren't kept in stock and have to be pre-ordered), are sold individually. Pre-ordered products may sometimes only be sold in quantitites corresponding with the minimum order accepted by the manufacturer.
  • Discounts, such as "Buy 1, get 1 free" and "One can 1.50, two cans 2.50" type deals are prohibited.
  • No product may be favored, which in effect means that either all the beers have to be refrigerated, or none. The second option is employed.
  • The age limit is 20 years of age (for beverages above 3.5 % alcohol). A main reason to have Systembolaget as monopoly is to enforce this age limit. Several tests have shown that food shops often sell 3.5 % beer to people below the age limit which is 18 for 3.5 % beer.
  • Systembolaget is not allowed to sell any alcohol to drunk people, or to people that they have reason to believe are buying it for someone else (implicitly: someone under the legal drinking age).

In June 2007, a panel of EU judges commented that restrictions on the private import of alcohol were unjustified, and not in the interest of the free movement of goods.This was regarding private import of alcohol by postal package. The shop monopoly is accepted by the EU.

Domestic and international market

Serving a market of 9 million Swedes, Systembolaget is one of the world's largest buyer of wine and spirits from producers around the world. However, as is often believed, it is not the largest buyer, a place now taken by Tescomarker.

Taxation and pricing

As other government owned monopolies within free trade areas, there are several aspects that govern the operation. All product selections and displays must be based on customer preferences, every producer and distributor must be handled the same way.All marketing activities must be for the company itself and its own services, never for an individual product. This is also the reason why all products are taxed on alcohol content, not on price, and that all products are sold with the same profit margin. This explains why a cheap vodka can be seen as expensive, while an exclusive single malt whisky can be seen as cheap, compared to international prices.

It is a fact that beer is not so highly taxed anymore in order to protect Swedish breweries (and its employment opportunties) against purchase during travel abroad. It is ( ) 1.47 SEK per % alcohol and litre, which means 3.67 SEK for a 5% beer can (50 cl). Such a can usually costs about 10 SEK (1.05 EUR) at Systembolaget. For wine the tax follows a table. For 12 % wine the tax is 22.08 SEK per litre. For distilled products the tax is 5.01 per % and litre.


In 1766 the Swedish king, Adolf Fredrik, decided, after several unsuccessful attempts at regulating alcohol consumption, to abolish all restrictions. This led to virtually every household making and selling alcohol. At the beginning of the 1800s, the Swedish people were estimated to have drunk an average of 45 litres of pure alcohol a year , from 175,000 distillers (most of them for household-production only), using tremendous amounts of grain and potatoes that otherwise would have been consumed as food.

In 1830, the first moderate drinking society was started in Stockholmmarker. A few decades later, the first complete temperance organisation was formed. Private gain from selling alcohol was strongly criticised by these groups, and this opinion was embraced by doctors and members of the Swedish Church. In 1850, alcohol began to be regulated by the state. In the city of Falunmarker, a state organisation was created whose job it was to regulate all alcohol sales in the city and make sure it was being done responsibly.

In 1860, a bar was opened in Gothenburgmarker where the state had handpicked the employees and decided how the bar should be run. Anti-social or intoxicated people were to be excluded. This was where people both bought and drank their alcohol. This was also the year it became illegal to sell to people under the age of 18. Similar state-regulated bars and stores began to open in other towns across the country, and they were hugely successful. Originally the profits were kept privately by the owners, but in 1870 the state decided all profits should go to the state.

A self-service Systembolaget in Södertälje, Sweden.
During the First World War, alcohol was strictly rationed. The state bars and stores started registering purchases. People were allowed only two litres of liquor every three months, and beer was banned . After the war, the rationing continued. Sex, income, wealth and social status decided how much alcohol you were allowed to buy. Unemployed people and married women were not allowed to buy anything at all. A referendum on prohibition in 1922 advised government not to issue total prohibition. The rationing system was very unpopular. When even the temperance movement protested against it (they felt it encouraged consumption), the government decided a new policy was needed.

In 1955 the rationing system was abolished, and people were allowed to start buying as much alcohol as they wanted from Systembolaget stores. This led to increased consumption, so the government increased taxes heavily and made it the law that everyone had to show ID to get served. In 1965 it became legal for privately run stores to sell beer up to 4.5% with an age limit of 18. This lasted for 12 years. After alcohol consumption – especially that of light beers – rose dramatically, the limit was lowered to 3.5%.

In 1990, Systembolaget has begun to have the bottles on shelves, that the customer picks himself and pay at the exit, like any food shop. This was introduced gradually in shop after shop during a ten year period. The older system, when the customer had to ask the shop attendant for products he wanted to buy, is still used in some small and more remote shops. The older method was justified by the assumption that desk service would avoid tempting people to buy more than planned.

Corruption controversy

The corruption scandal first gained widespread media attention in the autumn of 2003, with Systembolaget issuing its first press release regarding the preliminary investigations on 7 November 2003. On 11 February 2005, 77 managers of Systembolaget stores were charged with receiving bribes from suppliers, and one of the largest trials in modern Swedish history followed. 18 managers were found guilty on December 19, and then on February 23 another 15 managers were found guilty.

In January 2009 allegations were aimed against Fondberg & Co, the second largest supplier of wine to Systembolaget with a market share of 8.5%, concerning large payments made to the Gibraltar firm Bodegas, and are under investigation by the Swedish Tax Agencymarker.


Systembolaget makes advertisements focused on the side effects of drinking, and the encouragement of drinking moderately. Many of their ads are focused at stopping teenagers from obtaining alcohol, and to press on people under 25 showing identification.

During November, 2008, Systembolaget launched a campaign where people under 25 would get a free pack of chewing gum saying "Thank you for showing ID" when showing their ID to the cashier before they were asked to.

Other alcoholic monopolies

See also


External links

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