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Swedes now spend more on fun than on food: study

Swedes spend more money on their recreation than they do on food, according to a new study.

The survey, conducted by Statistics Sweden, revealed that Swedes spend considerably more money on culture and recreational activities than they do on groceries.

In one year, the average Swede spends around 54,000 kronor ($7,700) on cultural and recreational activities, and only 36,800 kronor on food.

The data demonstrates an ongoing trend which has seen food spending eat up an ever smaller portion of families’ disposable incomes.

Fifty years ago, grocery bills accounted for at least 30 percent of the average household budget.

Today, the number has dwindled to a lowly 13 percent.

Interestingly enough, Swedish spending on tobacco products and alcohol has also decreased during the past thirty years.

Swedes now spend around 1,700 kronor less per year on both.

The study also showed that Swedish households are spending more overall.

Over the last three decades, Swedish household spending has increased by 35 percent.

In 1978, yearly household costs averaged just 216,000 kronor per year, compared with a total for 2008 of 291,000 kronor.

The study made no mention of corresponding changes in families’ income levels.

Additional changes in spending habits can be seen in the table below:

How Swedes’ spending has changed since 1978

Item 1978 spending (kronor) 2008 spending (kronor)
Household items: 43,900 71,600
Groceries: 40,100 36,800
Eating out: 6,800 10,500
Alcohol: 4,400 3,900
Tobacco: 3,400 2,200
Disposable goods: 5,400 5,900
Household services: 8,500 10,300
Clothes and shoes: 17,400 14,900
Furniture: 18,900 17,300
Healthcare: 3,000 6,600
Transportation: 32,800 50,300
Culture and recreation: 30,900 54,900
Total annual spending: 215,500 290,900

Source: Statistics Sweden

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SHOPPING

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden’s rural areas

One after another, grocery stores are shutting down in rural Sweden, leaving villagers to travel miles to buy food. But a new type of shop has sprung up in their wake: unmanned supermarkets in mobile containers.

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden's rural areas
Store manager Domenica Gerlach enters the Lifvs unmanned supermarket store in Veckholm, 80km outside Stockholm. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand /AFP

In Veckholm, a village of a few hundred people 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Stockholm, the last grocery store closed more than a decade ago. Then, a year-and-a-half ago, even the little convenience store at the only petrol station locked its doors.

Villagers were left with no choice but to travel a half-hour by car to the closest supermarket.

But in July 2020, an automated, unmanned grocery store came to town. In a container dropped in the middle of a field, open 24 hours a day, the 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) supermarket sells hundreds of items — and there’s no cashier in sight.

“Since a while back, there has been nothing in this area and I think most of us living here have really missed that,” said Giulia Ray, a beekeeper in
Veckholm. 

“It’s so convenient to have this in the area,” she told AFP, doing her own shopping and restocking the shop’s shelves with her honey at the same time.

Shoppers unlock the supermarket’s door with an app on their smartphone. “We come here three times a week and buy stuff we need,” Lucas Edman, a technician working in the region for a few weeks, told AFP. “It’s a little bit more expensive but it’s fine. It’s a price I can pay to not go to another store.”

He scanned his pizzas and soda on the app on his phone, which is linked to his bank account and a national identification system — an added anti-theft security, according to the store. And it’s all done under the watchful eye of a single security camera.

Keeping costs down

In Sweden, the number of grocery stores — everything from superstores to small convenience stores — has dropped from 7,169 in 1996 to 5,180 in 2020, according to official statistics.

While the number of superstores has almost tripled in 24 years, many rural shops have closed down, often due, like elsewhere in Europe, to a lack of
profitability.

Daniel Lundh, who co-founded the Lifvs, has opened almost 30 unmanned stores in rural Sweden and in urban areas with no shops in the past two years.

“To be able to keep low prices for the customer, we have to be able to control our operation costs. So that means controlling the rent — that’s why
the stores are quite small — but also controlling the staffing cost,” Lundh said.

He plans to open his first unstaffed supermarkets outside Sweden early next year.

Domenica Gerlach, who manages the Veckholm store, only comes by once a week to receive deliveries. She also manages three other shops, all of them mobile containers.

Peter Book, the mayor of Enkoping, the municipality to which Veckholm belongs, has only good things to say about the three container stores that
have opened in his patch. And he’d like to see more.

“It makes it easier to take a step to move there if you know you have this facility,” he said.

Meeting place and ‘salvation’

In Sweden, one of the most digitalised countries in the world, Lifvs, like its Swedish rivals AutoMat and 24Food which have also popped up in rural
areas, benefits from a very wired population.

In 2019, 92 percent of Swedes had a smartphone. Ironically, the unmanned shops — plopped down in the middle of nowhere — also play a role as a “meeting place” for locals.

“You come here, you get some gas and you go inside and get something, and maybe someone else is here and you can have a chat,” Ray said.
Mayor Book echoed the notion, saying the stores make it possible to connect society”.

The pandemic has also proven the stores’ usefulness, since no contact with other people inside the shop is necessary.

Because of Covid-19, only one person at a time is allowed inside the Veckholm store.

“My mother lives nearby as well and … this has been a shop she could actually enter during all this time. She hasn’t been (able to go) anywhere,”
Ray said of her 75-year-old mother. “This has been a salvation for her.”

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