An enthusiast’s analysis of Swedish bourbon sales data

Erik Hasselgärde
Sep 28, 2016 · 4 min read

To give you a better idea of how much bourbon–or rather how little in comparison–is sold in Sweden, I’ve crunched some numbers. This is from a frustrated consumers point of view (one bad at numbers at that), not anything else.

In their release plan, Systembolaget shows annual sales of each product group they offer. In this post, I’ve compiled two categories: “American whiskey” (including bourbon, rye etc.) and “Scotch single malt whisky” for comparison. Other categories include Scotch blended, Irish and Canadian whisky. The reason for focusing on just these two is, one: to keep this post from being too numbers-heavy, and two: because Sweden is a Scotch single malt country, which the numbers will show you. I don’t know if it is drab-weathered Swedes feeling a kinship with drab-weathered Scots or something far more probable (like marketing), but sales of Scotch whisky far exceeds its American equivalent. This is also represented in the range offered at bars, and also home bars in Sweden.

Also, when I talk about sales in this post, I talk about the sales of Systembolaget only. I don’t have numbers on sales in restaurants and bars or private import, which is much smaller but still of some importance.

I’ve gathered the sales numbers (in liters) between 2008 and 2015, which are the ones I could get from Systembolaget:

I should say something about availability here. In 2008 there were six American whiskeys available at Systembolaget, and about ten times as many in 2015 (I should be right about this).

I wouldn’t blame the low popularity (and then sales by extension) of bourbon in Sweden to lack of availability, at least not as a single factor (even if I would, the numbers won’t let me). I speculate the lack of popularity is more a cultural thing.

And one more thing: the sales numbers for bourbon aren’t bad in themselves, not at all I think. It is the comparison to the other category that I want to press on:

This bar graph really illustrates the stronghold Scotch single malt whisky has on Swedish consumers, making up almost 40% of total whisk(e)y sales in Sweden in 2015.

The launch plan also comments on sales–and some interesting and sometimes even humorous (unintentionally I’m sure) comments can be found among the numbers:

About American whiskey being the only one in the whisk(e)y segment seeing rising sales in 2014 compared to 2013, but still being the wee one in the group:

American whiskeys are the exception in this category, reporting an increase in volumes of 1.3 percent, but it is also by far the smallest of the four big countries of origin so its effect on the overall figures is not particularly significant.

Continuing, we see what could potentially be the bourbon boom making its way to Sweden:

What is, however, clear is that we are seeing a premiumisation trend in the segment and that even whisky that costs more than the market leader has gained in popularity with our customers.

About American and Irish whiskeys growing in sales:

“This trend can hardly be said to be to do with spelling: the reason for the shift can, in all probability, be found in marketing measures with the latter segment being dominated by brands often seen in advertising campaigns, not least on TV.”

Results from a consumer trend analysis of the “whisk(e)y buyers” category. Clearly, I was not asked:

“Here we find a group of consumers who are very satisfied with the existing assortment”

Maybe my only real gripe with having a state-controlled alcohol monopoly in Sweden is that you have very little say (if any at all) in what goes on the shelf. Targeting and lobbying specific brands to get here is, as I see it, futile at best as a consumer. And with sales being (relatively) low, there’s no real incentive for Systembolaget to add any more than they already do.

Lucky for me, my favorite bar has opened for the season. See you there?

One last thing! I’d really appreciate it if you show support for this post (by clapping) so other people can find it, and feel free to comment by adding a response! Follow the Northern Bourbon publication to get notified when new bourbon-related articles are published. If you enjoyed this article, please consider following me on Instagram and liking the Northern Bourbon facebook page. Thanks!


Northern Bourbon

An outsider's view of American whiskey

Erik Hasselgärde

Written by

Bourbon whiskey activist. Runs Northern Bourbon.

Northern Bourbon

An outsider's view of American whiskey

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