Champagne swirls as Swedes enjoy the good life

In bars, restaurants and homes across Sweden champagne is flowing in abundance as Swedes enjoy a seemingly endless thirst for the bubbly beverage, spurred by a gastronomic "revolution" and a rosy economy.

Champagne sales at stores run by the alcohol distribution monopoly Systembolaget are expected to hit an all-time high of one million bottles this year, excluding sales in bars and restaurants.

That figure can be compared to 738,000 bottles sold last year and 287,000 a decade ago.

“Drinking champagne is usual now and it’s common not only at the weekend or to celebrate a special event, it’s an everyday drink,” says Per Nordlind, owner of the Cocktails and Champagne Bar in a posh neighbourhood of Stockholm.

The bar is chic yet cozy, and the well-heeled customers of all ages look laid-back as they choose from four kinds of champagne by the glass and 30 by the bottle.

Customers dish out between 120 to 150 kronor (13 to 16 euros, 19 to 24 dollars) per glass, and 695 kronor for the cheapest bottle.

Champagne’s skyrocketing popularity is attributed to Sweden’s “long term economic growth, combined with a long term growth in the interest for quality, origin and prestige,” says Martin Erlandsson, the local representative for famed champagne maker Moet Hennessy.

The trend is a major change from the post-war period, when beer and spirits were the alcohol of choice in the country and binge-drinking was common. In recent decades wine has become increasingly popular, and Swedes’ taste for champagne is seen as a natural progression.

“The economy is very healthy. We have learned a lot about champagne and drinking champagne is a way to show that we’re earning a lot of money. You show you’re successful,” says 37-year-old Fredrik Linder as he sits at the bar enjoying a glass with a friend.

Both are businessmen in the lucrative IT sector, and the pair say they each drink two bottles a week on average.

“Champagne is the ultimate symbol of quality. It is associated with parties and celebrations — you feel happy when you drink champagne,” Linder said.

During the January to October period, sales of Moet et Chandon, Bollinger, Pol Roger, Veuve Cliquot and others have risen by 27 percent, according to Systembolaget.

And that figure doesn’t include the thousands of bottles unpopped in bars, restaurants and clubs, nor those bought directly from producers in France or in duty-free shops on board ferries that cross the Baltic.

The high price of alcohol in Sweden, where heavy taxes are aimed at curbing consumption, doesn’t seem to have hampered sales.

Customers pay a minimum of around 300 kronor for a decent bottle at Systembolaget, while a 30-year-old Swedish businessmen reportedly coughed up 75,000 kronor ($11,800) for a six-litre bottle of Dom Perignon at a trendy Stockholm nightclub in late 2006.

“Consumption worldwide is rising by five to six percent each year but in Sweden it is growing at the same rate as in emerging countries, by 30 percent,” explains Ghislain de Montgolfier, the head of the Union of Champagne Houses in France.

“It’s not just an economic phenomenon with Swedes enjoying strong purchasing power right now. It’s also, and foremost, a cultural phenomenon,” he says.

“In Scandinavia there’s a growing interest in gastronomy, and thereby alcohol which is also linked to a sense of conviviality,” he adds.

That view is shared by Crister Svantesson, a 60s-something aficionado sipping bubbly at the Cocktails and Champagne Bar.

He’s travelled to the Champagne region in France on several occasions to learn more about the iconic drink, and says he always has a bottle chilling in his fridge.

“This is the most beautiful drink that exists,” he says with a big smile.

“Champagne used to symbolize luxury 15 years ago in Sweden” but now it is simply good etiquette to always have a bottle on hand, Svantesson says.

Swedes are increasingly interested in gourmet products and living the bon vivant lifestyle that goes with them, he says.

Niklas Zachrisson, a 26-year-old sitting further down the bar who works in advertising, chips in: “This is an expensive wine so we take our time to drink it.”

Richard Juhlin, the Swedish author of the book “4,000 Champagnes” and an internationally-renowned expert, goes so far as to say that the champagne trend is part of a bigger “gastronomic revolution”.

Swedish holidaymakers in Italy bring back crates of their favourite olive oil or balsamic vinegar, vacationers just home from Thailand try to duplicate authentic pad thais, while prestige chocolate, cheeses, wines and foie gras sell like hotcakes.

“Swedes travel so much and are influenced by other countries. We like drinking and eating what we have tested in other countries,” he says.

Concludes Erlandsson: “More and more Swedes are interested in quality and prestige in general, and champagne is the ultimate symbol of this.”


‘Tougher times’: Sweden’s economy to slow next year

Consumers in Sweden are set to crimp spending over the rest of the year, pushing the country into an economic slowdown, Sweden's official economic forecaster has warned in its latest prognosis.

'Tougher times': Sweden's economy to slow next year

A combination of record high energy prices over the winter, rising interest rates, and inflation at around 10 percent, is set to hit household spending power over the autumn and winter, leading to lower sales for businesses and dragging economic growth down to just 0.5 percent next year. This is down from the 1.2 percent the institute had forecast for 2023 in its spring forecast. 

“I don’t want to be alarmist,” Ylva Hedén Westerdahl, forecasting head at the Swedish National Institute of Economic Research, said at a press conference announcing the new forecast. “We don’t expect the sort of economic slowdown that we saw during the financial crisis or the pandemic, where unemployment rose much more. But having said that, people who don’t have a job will find it tougher to enter the labour market.” 

She said that a shortage of gas in Europe over the winter, will push electricity prices in Sweden to twice the levels seen last winter, while the core interest rate set by Sweden’s Riksbank is set to rise to two percent. 

As a result, Sweden’s unemployment rate will rise slightly to 7.8 percent next year, from 7.7 percent in 2022, which is 0.3 percentage points higher than the institute had previously forecast. 

On the plus side, Westerdahl said that she expected the Riksbank’s increases in interest rates this year and next year would succeed in getting inflation rates in Sweden under control. 

“We expect a steep decline in inflation which is going to return to below two percent by the end of 2023,” she said. “That depends on whether electricity prices fall after the winter, but even other prices are not going to rise as quickly.” 

After the press conference, Sweden’s finance minister, Mikael Damberg, said he broadly agreed with the prognosis. 

“I’ve said previously that we are on the way into tougher times, and that is what the institute confirms,” he told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT. “There’s somewhat higher growth this year, at the same time as fairly high inflation which will hit many households and make it tougher to live.”

Damberg called on Sweden’s political parties to avoid making high-spending promises in the election campaign, warning that these risked driving up inflation. 

“What’s important in this situation is that we don’t get irresponsible when it comes to economic policy,” he said. “Because when parties make promises left, right and centre, it risks driving up inflation and interest rates even more, so Swedish households have an even tougher time. Right now, it’s important to prioritise.” 

 The call 

Sverige är på väg mot lågkonjunktur enligt Konjunkturinstitutets (KI) senaste prognos. Enligt finansminster Mikael Damberg (S) är det därför viktigt att Sverige sköter sin ekonomi ansvarsfullt och vågar prioritera.

– Jag tror att alla partier behöver vara lite återhållsamma och inte lova för mycket, säger han.

Mikael Damberg tycker att KI tecknar en realistisk bild av Sveriges ekonomiska verklighet.

– Jag har sagt tidigare att vi går mot tuffare tider och det är väl det som KI bekräftar. Något högre tillväxt i år men sämre tillväxtförutsättningar nästa år samt fortsatt ganska hög inflation som slår mot många hushåll och gör det tuffare att leva, säger han.

Och vad vill regeringen göra åt det?

– Det är viktigt att vi i det här läget inte är ansvarslösa i den ekonomiska politiken. För när partier lovar vitt och brett till allt riskerar vi att driva upp inflationen, öka räntan ytterligare och svenska hushåll får det svårare. Nu måste man våga prioritera.

Se intervjun med Damberg om konjunkturläget klippet ovan.

“Electricity prices are going to be twice as high as last winter,” said 

Elpriserna kommer att bli dubbelt så höga som förra vintern, säger Ylva Hedén Westerdahl, chef för Konjunkturinstitutets prognosavdelning, på en pressträff.
Den lågkonjunktur som KI ser framför sig kallar hon trots det för en mjuklandning. Den handlar främst om att människor kommer att ha mindre pengar att konsumera.

“Brist på gas i Europa gör att energipriserna ser ut att bli rekordhöga under vintern”, skriver KI, och ser att inflationen kommer att närma sig 10 procent.

Deras prognos för styrräntan är att den ligger på 2 procent vid årsslutet, vilket gör att inflationen faller tillbaka snabbt under nästa år och Riksbanken låter då räntan ligga still.

KI tillägger att de offentliga finanserna är fortsatt starka och de bedömer att det finns ett budgetutrymme på runt 120 miljarder kronor för de kommande fyra åren.

Vad gäller BNP spår KI en blygsam tillväxt på 0,5 procent nästa år – en nedskrivning från tidigare 1,2 procent.

Prognosen för arbetslösheten under 2023 är 7,8 procent, 0,3 procentenheter högre än tidigare prognos.

Fredrik Fahlman/TT
Johanna Ekström/TT