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Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

One of the most common stereotypes is that Finns drink. A lot. Consequently, I came prepared to find drunk people yelling in the streets and alcoholic beverages available everywhere. I was wrong, at least about the drinks part. In Finland alcohol is only sold at specific, state-owned shops called Alko.

Alko was founded in 1932 and is the Finnish monopoly that for years has sold beverages with more than 4.7% alcohol. However, at the start of 2018, a revision of the Alcohol Act took place and it gave grocery stores and kiosks the right to sell beverages with up to 5.5% alcohol. This means that it is now possible to get stronger beers, ciders and mixed drinks from your nearest supermarket.

The alcohol business is booming. The Finnish corporation Altia Plc, which produces, imports, exports and markets alcoholic beverages, made a business result of 1.6 million euros between January-March when a year ago the result was about 0.7 million euros during the same period. Last year, the turnover of the corporation was about 73.5 million euros.

According to Altia’s CEO Pekka Tennilä, the sales in grocery stores began well after the new Alcohol Act came into effect. “The selection in grocery stores keeps developing, and the stores are expected to increase their supply, especially in ready-to-drink products.

“The selection in grocery stores keeps developing, and the stores are expected to increase their supply, especially in ready-to-drink products.”

For Alko, the reform meant a loss of up to 8 percent in sales. There are around 355 Alko shops throughout the country, however, some of them have had to close down. Alko keeps hopeful for the summer though, wishing to keep their customers and maintain sales.

A new proposal has been suggested where Alko could implement shops on wheels in order to reach smaller towns in rural areas. In these places Alko shops have had to close because of the loss in sales and currently, small-town residents can only order drinks from Alko through their grocery store.

The idea would be to have a truck that would circulate smaller towns with a schedule. That’s right, instead of going outside looking for an ice cream or a library truck, you could be looking for a booze truck!

For Alko, this would be less expensive than keeping shops that are no longer profitable and also a way to ensure the product reaches those small town people in search of a good drink. Ismo Tuominen, a member of the health ministry, has stated that there will be flexible sales channels for Alko in the near future.

Now that Alko is facing some competition it plans on increasing the number of products they offer. By 2020 the Finnish monopoly plans on having 10,000 items in its retail locations, as well as having alcohol auctions. For now, Finns and foreigners get their drinks from the closest Alko shop, provided that it’s not Sunday because they are closed.