Sweden, Finland and the Nordic nations present unique challenges to Australian wine producers.
Following on from Wine Australia’s recent Nordics Roadshow, leading Australian wine writer, Drew Lambert, shares his expert insight on how Australian winemakers can get their wines imported into the notoriously tricky markets of Sweden and Finland.
Sweden and Finland: well worth the effort
If you think exporting wine to Sweden and Finland is pretty much the same as exporting to the UK – think again. As an Australian wine writer now living in Stockholm, the Nordic market is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Many producers have tried exporting to this corner of the world and failed miserably. That’s because they didn’t understand the unique drinking culture and refined their marketing and wine offerings accordingly. If you want a piece of the lucrative Nordic export pie – Sweden, 6.41m litres, up 27%, and valued at $22.4m or Finland, 6.55m litres and valued at $14.78m - you must first listen to the experts.
One thing you need to know about these countries….
Both Sweden and Finland’s alcohol is controlled by the government – this means there is only one wine shop for the entire country. Yep, you heard right; Systembolaget in Sweden, and the unusually named Alko in Finland are state-owned monopolies and to get your wines listed you have to go through a tendering process. One downside to this tendering process, of course, is there are less opportunities to get listed, and the opportunities for Australian wine are nowhere near as diverse as it is in the UK. But who doesn’t love a challenge? And even if you are successful, there’s a high chance your wines won’t be sold in the wine shops but will be made available to purchase online and then available for collection in the store 7 days later. Some wine companies love this system; one large order and your sales targets are set for the year. For others, however, the system just seems archaic. Fortunately, restaurants and bars aren’t so limited. They can buy directly from distributors, so there is a lot more variation and opportunities for distribution of wines from Australia.
What do potential exporters need to know?
If you want to succeed in the Nordics, don’t export any old wine and hope for the best: You need to listen to the experts and I've assembled a crack team of wine writers, chief purchasing officers and Australian based wine ambassadors who are helping to lift the lid on the Nordic market. They are:
- Richard Doumani - Wine Brand Ambassador Pernod Ricard – Richard’s an Aussie living in Stockholm and is loved by the trade
- Alf Tumble – one of the new breed of Swedish wine writers – i.e. he’s young (he’d under 40), writes for Dagen Nyheter and DJs at the weekend
- Anders Levander – highly respected Swedish wine writer whose website Din Vin Guide is one of Sweden’s highest traffic wine review sites
- Magnus Lindblom – is an Australian wine buyer for Systembolaget (Sweden)
- Petri Aalto – is a Senior Category Manager, Alko (Finland)
- Drew Lambert - Australian wine writer and recent resident of Stockholm
What kind of wine does the average consumer enjoy drinking in the Nordics?
[Richard] Affordable and fruity wines that are made by producers that are trusted brands. There is no perception of bad quality for bag in box wines and typically these two markets enjoy wines with more residual sugar than most markets (particularly in red wines).
[Alf] Here in Sweden we tend to drink wine from many different countries and origins. Italian, French and South African wines used to be the most popular. Swedes prefer red wine. We want the wines to taste of much (be flavourful) and cost little. The appassimento wines such as Amarone are popular, and over-represented at the monopoly. Organic wines are very popular as well.
[Petri] Average wine consumed is red wine with a price of 9.8 euros (0.75ltr bottle) with its taste profile being luscious and jammy. The white wine category has been growing for the past year and clearly there is a trend for lighter style reds as well. But on average, big reds are still making the biggest chunk of consumption.
What does a quality Australian winery have to do to make itself more attractive to a Swedish or Finnish consumer?
[Richard] Fair trade, ethical production, organic, lighter bottles and top it off with a recognisable label. Most typically consumers are looking for a wine from around 60-80 kr (A$9-12). Definitely under 100kr (A$15). I personally think that more regionality will gain traction, but it will take time and education.
[Drew] Visit Sweden and educate the wine trade so you can start building the buzz for your brand here. While it’s important to support Wine Australia’s Nordic roadshow that is held each October, work with your distributor to hold regular tastings throughout the rest of the year. It would be great to see Swedish distributors with Australian portfolios team up and hold joint tastings that showcase regional styles. Winemakers don’t need to be in the market, so long as the distributor can lead the masterclass
[Petri] Labels and their quality and design are a very good way to communicate to the Finnish consumers. At Alko, all products are treated equally and arranged with a certain logic in the stores, so interesting labels have a clear impact on the consumer’s choice. Consumers are interested in stories behind a producer and thus getting more background for the company. Events like Wine Australia Nordic Roadshow are also an excellent way to raise interest in consumers.
[Alf] Be organic. Have a story to tell. Do not try to copy the old world too much. Be modern. Modern labels etc.
What do Nordic people think about Australian wine?
[Magnus] there seems to be a lot of exciting things going on in Australia at the moment. Cool climate, new regions, small production, unexpected grape varieties etc. etc. The problem is of course to make the consumer see all this. It’s the same challenges for other southern origins, such as Chile for instance. They started out as a major exporter of entry level wines back in the nineties. It’s quite hard to reposition the ‘brand’ after that. So what Chile needs (and probably Australia in some degree) is to get the word out there. A lot has happened since the eighties, and it’s happening fast now.
[Alf] The average consumer doesn’t have an idea of what Australian wine taste like. It's ‘New World wine’, like South Africa. To people who are interested in wine, Australia is the home of big, bold and sweet Shiraz. They think that all red wines taste of eucalyptus and mint, lot of new oak and that the regions are all very warm and sunny.
[Richard] Off trade – cheap and fruity but with some quality wines also. Tending to be more about the ‘blockbuster wines’ e.g. Grange when it comes to quality. It’s all about Jacob’s Creek, Penfolds and Lindemans (the brands with the most listings). On trade – for larger chains they are buying mostly on price. For smaller independent restaurants – they are looking and yearning for new young producers who are true to their origin – Ochota Barrels, Jamsheed and Ravensworth would all be easy sells here (to the right sommelier)
What is something that is peculiar to this part of the world that most Australian wineries find hard to understand?
[Petri] Probably few things may seem odd, but maybe the biggest is that here the retail sale of alcohol is restricted and taken care by only one entity, Alko Inc. The good part here is that we treat all suppliers equally - no matter if you are small or big. All have the same opportunity to enter the retail shelves. And yes, the Santa Claus comes from Finland - so remember to behave!
[Anders] It is important for Australian producers to see the Nordic markets as two different markets. One sophisticated and looking for new trends; consumers that are willing to pay for quality. Another market is price hunters looking for entry level wines. Both markets are interesting for producers. We spend a lot of money on wine in Sweden.
[Richard] The nature of consumption – definitely and definitively seasonal. Rose only ever in summer and summer is short. The nature of traditional food – very heavy and salty. Wines need to be a counterpoint to this.
[Alf] We don't have a wine culture. In the 60s and 70s we drank much more booze and beer than wine. Today, when we do consume a lot of wine, we are not very loyal to a specific country or region. Drew Lambert is a leading Australian wine writer who is currently resident in Stockholm. He is one of the Wine Wankers.
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