It started off quite well. A phone call from a nice chap at the Systembolaget wanting to chat and exchange thoughts on some ideas they’d had about how small-scale, locally produced beers are sold in the monopoly stores.
I can’t remember the conversation exactly, but it went along the lines of “there’s been such a growth in microbreweries in Sweden we feel we need to restructure the system in order to provide a better service to our customers. It’s going to be called TSLS and it’s going to be cool!
“You can still be in the ordering assortment (there’s just the little matter of sending your stuff down to our warehouse in Örebro) but hey, don’t worry because here’s the really super duper good news! From September 1st you can increase the number of local stores your stuff is in from 3 to 10 in a 100km radius of your brewery! Plus we’ll make our website more craft beer friendly with pictures and everything! Great huh? Thought you’d like it!”
It went something like that anyway…..
Just a few days later I got the email from the monopoly explaining that the good times were over. That small regional Swedish craft brewers and the Systembolaget were ‘taking a break’. That we had, in effect, been dumped.
Dumped and duped, because as it turns out the 10 store rule to sweeten the bitter pill of throwing us out of the ordering assortment is impossible to swallow.
For breweries like mine – Beer Studio based in Umeå in Norrland – it is nothing more than an empty promise. Within a 100 km radius of our tanks we’ve only got a couple of small inland Systembolaget stores. The nearest towns of Örnsköldsvik and Skellefteå both fall just outside the circle.
Even if the monopoly were to extend the circle to include them the cost of delivering 2 cases of beer to Skellefteå on a 170km round trip wouldn’t be worth it for a small business like mine.
But hey, if you’re a brewery in one of the more densely populated areas like, oh let me take a guess here…..Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö then these could be good times, with plenty of stores to choose from.*
And imagine if you’re a brewery located near Örebro? Ching Ching I say, as all you need to do is deliver to SB’s central warehouse nearby and voila – you’re effectively available in the whole of the country.
These new regulations clearly stack the deck against more remotely located craft breweries like mine, effectively forcing us out of the ordering assortment by expecting us to freight beer further and more expensively than many others.
It makes no economic sense for my brewery and it makes absolutely no environmental sense to encourage us brewers to jump in our cars and vans, drive further and longer, book more freight forwarders and expect, in my case, to send beer all the way down to Örebro in order to send it all the way back up again to someone in Luleå.
To the monopoly I say you need to rethink these rules and you need to do it now. You need to explain these new rules clearly** (thank heavens for Portersteken, a beer blogger who is currently the best source of information about the new regulations) and you need to do it now. You need to urgently invite the small breweries in this country to an open discussion to see if there is another way, because your way isn’t working.
Want proof? Here’s proof. When one of this country’s most exciting and celebrated craft breweries has to pull its beers from the shelves of the monopoly and it becomes easier to buy their beers anywhere but in Sweden something is clearly wrong. When small breweries throughout the land reject the monopoly’s bungled offer and get pushed back to 3 (or even less) of their local stores then someone somewhere has screwed up.
From nurturing the Swedish craft beer industry in its infancy the monopoly now seems intent on stunting its growth.
Beer Studio was only in the ordering assortment for a few months. It was nice while it lasted I suppose. From September 1st you won’t be able to buy any of our beers at the monopoly unless you come to the city of birches.
The monopoly says it’s a sustainable distribution solution driven by increased customer demand.
I say it’s a lumbering step backwards for craft breweries and fans of craft beer in Sweden.
*oh that’s right; we’re not actually allowed to choose which of the extra 7 stores we can be in. That’s based on some secret calculation we have yet to understand).
**If I’ve made errors or misread the new regulations then I apologise. In fact scratch that I don’t. I tried asking the monopoly for clarification of the rules in an email sent on May 19th. I’m still waiting for a reply.