Wine importer and distributor guide: Finland

Wine Distributor and Importer Guide: Finland

General information about Finland

Finland is a country on the Scandinavian peninsula, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The population in 2023 was 5,568,000. The population is mostly concentrated in the central part of the country and its largest cities are Helsinki, the capital with just under 675,000 inhabitants, but if you include the suburbs, it rises to 1,360,000. The second most populated city is Espoo with 314,000 inhabitants. Also worth noting are cities such as Tampere with 255,000, and Vantaa with 247,000 inhabitants.

Finland has a developed economy ranking fifteenth with a nominal GDP per capita of US$54,351. The basis of the economy is the service sector and industry. Finland joined the EU in 1995 and is a member of the European Economic and Financial Union with the euro as its currency. The country is also known for the fact that in 2018, it took first place in the ‘happiness index’, a statistic compiled by the UN.

Importing wine to Finland

Finland has an alcohol monopoly called Alko, however drinks with an alcohol content of 5.5% and lower can be distributed in independent retail stores.

The monopoly arose after the 1932 referendum, when the ban on the distribution of alcoholic beverages (lasting from 1919 to 1932) was lifted. Initially, the monopoly was called Oy Alkoholiliike Ab and was also responsible for the production of alcohol. After numerous changes, it was renamed Alko and began to focus on the import and distribution of alcoholic beverages.

By 2022, Alco Finland consisted of 510 stores and pick-up points across Finland, with more than 2,500 employees. Organizations are state-owned, like Sweden’s Systembolaget and Norway’s Vinmonopolet. Alko is like a huge chain of supermarkets and its activities are aimed more at sales, rather than, as in the Swedish Systembolaget, at establishing connections between producers and consumers.

The key question for wineries and suppliers of alcoholic products is how to organize supplies to Alko. To do this, there is a help section on this issue on their official website:

Alko has several selections for alcoholic products: general selection, specialties, seasonal selection, and sale-to-order selection. The Selection plan is published three times a year. It publishes tender requests for the general selection, the larger specialties, and seasonal selection. Sometimes there are additional tender requests. For example, the current request accepts proposals in February 2024, and the next one will be from March to June 2024.

Alcohol tax on wine is second highest in the EU, at €4.21 per litre. In addition to the tax, there is a fee or tax for packaging of €0.51 per litre, as well as a VAT rate of 24%.

Wine distribution Finland

Wine distribution in Finland

Alko offers customers three types of product listings: Regular, Ordering, and Special Listings. In total, as of February 2024, the company offers more than 11,270 products, including 7,903 wines. There are 3,148 red wines, 2,201 white wines, and1,397 sparkling wines. There are also 403 rosés, 445 fortified, and 309 bag-in-box wines. The monopoly even has its own online catalogue of drinks:

The stores are usually located in shopping centres, and 90% of the products are in the Regular Selection. There is also a pre-ordering system where products can be picked up within 5-7 days. Delivery direct to the customer is prohibited.

Alcoholic beverages are also sold in licensed restaurants and bars, but are only for consumption in that establishment. Horeca occupies 13% of the alcohol sales market, but its role is more significant and important for premium wine sales.

Alko can also advertise certain brands, but only with alcohol content up to 22% (as there is a legal limit). In fact, advertising is most often done by the manufacturers themselves.

Wine consumer preferences

In 2021, red wines accounted for about 40% of sales in Finland, white wines 35%, sparkling wines 21%, and rosés 4%. The most popular wines imported to Finland remain those from Chile, both red and white.

Among the imported wines, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines are also popular and closely follow Chile in the list of best-selling ones. In terms of country of origin of white wines, Chile is followed by Germany, Italy, and South Africa. But the leader among imported rosé wines is France, followed by Italy and Spain. The most popular sparkling wines in Finland remain Prosecco, as well as sparkling wines from Spain and France.