Scandi Spirit

Other figures back this trend. Ingvar Ronde says that in the last five years total sales of spirits in Sweden have fallen by 9%. That said, within that figure whisky has been holding its own across the entire region.

Figures comparing December 2014 and December 2015 show that the whole whisky market in Sweden, Denmark and Norway grew by 1.8%, and Scottish single malt whisky growing by more than 5%. Ronde says that would appear to be right.

“Around 40% of all spirits sold in Sweden is whisky and it has been the same for at least five years,” he says.

Premium trends

“If we look at the different categories of whisky during these five years, they remain more or less unchanged. Blended scotch comes in at 62-63%, Canadian whisky 24%, Irish whiskey around 10%, scotch single malt 6% and American whiskey 2-3%.

“These figures are not 100% accurate as Swedish state figures only show figures for the top 100 spirit brands. On the other hand, they represent 85% of the total spirits volume.

If we were able to see the remaining 15%, I reckon the share of single malt would increase as many of
those brands have small sales figures but on the other hand, there are a lot of them.”

Euromonitor believes that Scottish single malt whisky is bucking the trend through its premium positioning as a category with heritage and history.

“Single malt scotch whisky and bourbon and other American whiskeys have, despite their higher prices, managed to display a vibrant total volume growth throughout the 2009-2014 review period,” it concludes. “Brands within these categories have been highly successful as a result of their heritage value and their unique production processes, which have generated interest amongst Scandinavian consumers.”

When Ingvar Ronde talks of state figures, he’s referring to figures from Systembolaget, the Swedish retailing monopoly distributing wines and spirits through more than 400 dedicated stores and a further 500 partner sites. These shops tend to stock a standard range of 300 whiskies, though another 1,200 can be ordered and are delivered in about a week.

The system is obviously important because it provides the only route to market. But it has become more so because it has recently been changed.

Seemingly there is movement towards a more liberal way of operating, but not everyone is convinced by the changes yet.

Help and hindrance

Angela D’Orazio is the whisky maker and master blender at Mackmyra, Sweden’s first and largest whisky
distillery. Traditionally the company has done well in Sweden, but she sees the Systembolaget as both a help and a hindrance.

“Obviously it’s great if you get listed in those 300 whiskies but once there you have to achieve sales
targets to stay there.

“There are different levels within the 300 whiskies, dependent on sales. It is much easier to be moved up and down the scale and that is not necessarily so good,”
Ingvar Ronde agrees.