Systembolaget punishes Absolut maker

Systembolaget, Sweden's government-owned monopoly alcohol retailer, is being taken to court by Vin & Sprit, the makers of Absolut Vodka, after the retailer removed 15 of the company's products from its shelves.

The move by Systembolaget is a punishment following accusations that Vin & Sprit employees bribed Systembolaget staff. Nine Vin & Sprit employees were charged with bribery last summer. Systembolaget said at the time that it was investigating what sanctions it could take against its fellow state-owned company.

But Vin & Sprit has now applied to the Svea Court of Appeal to get Systembolaget to halt its plans, which it says will cost it hundreds of millions of kronor.

“The way Systembolaget is acting is extraordinary. They make up the rules and act as judge. We therefore want this judgment to clarify the roles,” said Jacob Broberg, communications director of Vin & Sprit.

According to Vin & Sprit’s deposition, Systembolaget claims that Vin & Sprit broke supplier agreements, thus justifying the removal of 15 the company’s wines from the shelves.

The alcohol supplier wants the court to decide whether Systembolaget has the right to unilaterally remove the drinks because of an alleged breach on contract.

According to Vin & Sprit, Systembolaget has already contacted Vin & Sprit’s wine-making partners, who could now be forced to change Swedish importer in order to be able to continue selling their products in Sweden.

The drinks maker has now asked the court to issue an injunction to prevent Systembolaget taking the products off the shelf until the case is resolved. Vin & Sprit also pointed out that it is not being prosecuted as a company in the bribery case, with only a number of ex-employees facing prosecution. They are due to go on trial in March.

“Systembolaget wants to take away products that have an annual sales value of 32 million kronor. It is entirely unreasonable to do this before the court hearing,” said Broberg.


Swedes warned: Vodka won’t protect you from the coronavirus

Sweden's state-run alcohol chain Systembolaget has advised customers not to buy its spirits as a substitute for hand sanitiser.

Swedes warned: Vodka won't protect you from the coronavirus
Stockholmers queuing outside Systembolaget before Easter. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

One of the best ways of avoiding the new coronavirus and prevent its spread is to wash your hands often with soap and water, according to the Swedish Public Healh Agency.

If you don't have access to soap or running water, hand sanitiser is the next best option, but the product has been flying off the shelves as shoppers try to get their hands on a bottle.

Sweden's state-owned alcohol chain Systembolaget has been forced to put up signs in several of its stores informing customers that alcohol such as vodka and gin does not work as a substitute for hand sanitiser.

“NOT HAND SANITISER,” read the signs.

“We have had a few questions from customers and have put up signs in those stores,” said Systembolaget press officer Therese Elmgren.

“But it is not possible, just as the signs say. The percentage (of alcohol) needs to be higher.”

An alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent is needed for disinfectant to be effective in killing viruses or bacteria. Absolut Vodka, to use an example of a popular Swedish vodka brand, has an alcohol concentration of 40 percent.

However, some of the ingredients are the same, and during the coronavirus crisis Absolut has adapted parts of its manufacturing in order to produce pure alcohol which can be used for cleaning purposes, instead of vodka for consumption. This pure alcohol then needs to be mixed with gel, manufactured separately, to create usable sanitiser for the healthcare sector.