Swedish addicts could get glass ‘free zone’

Politicians in the small Swedish town of Falköping want to give alcoholics and drug users a glass-encased zone in the middle of a central square, saying it would lessen public disturbances and allow "the down and out" to socialize.

Swedish addicts could get glass 'free zone'

Two local Moderate Party politicians tabled a motion this week proposing the unconventional “free-zone” in a bid to free other public spaces from alcoholics and drug addicts.

“They should also be able to live the good life,” the motion said.

Moderate Håkan Andersson, head of the municipal opposition, said loiterers kept setting up shop outside the local GP’s office, as well as a central home for the elderly.

“You know what it’s like, the down-and-out can get quite rambunctious, they make a lot of noise, so people make detours to avoid them,” Andersson told The Local.

He added that the two Moderates who penned the “addict shelter” motion did not represent the party’s official line, but said he as well had been concerned about the circus of police and security guards telling the group of up to ten to 15 people to clear off.

Moderate Party politician Christina Jorméus, who sent in the proposal, told the Aftonbladet newspaper that she imagined a space like a bus shelter where addicts could spend time with each other and not feel isolated from society at large in the town of about 13,000 residents.

“They want to be where other people are, which one can understand,” Arnesson said about the proposal for a shelter on the central location Köttorget, which translates to Meat Square in Swedish.

“The proposal does talk about giving them a place where they can see other people,” he said.

While Arnesson admitted it was an round-about way to promote a sort of inclusion, he said he wasn’t opposed to the original spirit of the proposal – to make sure loiterers had a safe place to congregate.

Other local politicians were not keen on the idea.

“This just feels like an updated version of a leper colony,” Falköping’s Social Democrat local government commissioner Conny Johansson told Aftonbladet.

“I dont think it’s fair to talk about leper colonies,” countered Moderate Party local head Håkan Arnesson.

He underscored that at a recent seminar about the homeless, only local representatives from the Moderates and the Christian Democrats showed up to listen. All other parties were absent.

“Politicians in Falköping in general don’t care about the down-and-outs,” Arnesson told The Local.

Ann Törnkvist

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Why alcohol-free beer is having a moment in Sweden

Almost one in every ten beers sold in Sweden is alcohol-free, and it's young people in cities who are the biggest consumers. So what's driving the popularity of the booze-free beverage?

Why alcohol-free beer is having a moment in Sweden
Young people in cities are driving the trend for more alcohol-free beer. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad / TT

The popularity of alcohol-free beer is growing fast in Sweden, thanks to technical progress which has improved both the quality and variety of the beverage. It was the drink category that saw the biggest rise in sales in Sweden during 2018, with a 41 percent growth, according to figures from the Swedish Brewers Association.

“We see an increase in all areas; [state-run alcohol monopoly] Systembolaget has increased its sales, restaurants now have more than one variety and the beer selection in supermarkets [where only drinks with an alcohol content below 3.5 percent may be sold] has become noticeably more interesting to consumers,” the association's CEO Anna-Karin Fondberg said.

Swedish brewery Spendrups, one of the major players in the market, has seen a 30 percent increase in sales of alcohol-free beer since 2018, and last year was a record year.

“It's a trend in society that we're turning to alcohol-free products more and more, but I think that more than anything it's about the taste,” commented Spendrups head of press Rose-Marie Hertzman.

“There is now a really good alternative for those who for some reason want to abstain from alcohol, and that has not always been the case. When we manufacture alcohol-free beer, we first make a strong beer [with high alcohol content] and then take away the alcohol, so you keep all the flavours,” said Hertzman.

Making beer free from alcohol is a complicated and expensive process, requiring manufacturers either to cut off the fermentation process or remove the alcohol afterwards. Alcohol is a flavour carrier, but modern techniques mean that it's no longer the case that alcohol-free beer means a flavourless drink.

Anna-Karin Fondberg of the Swedish Brewers Association agrees that product development has been important for the increased interest in alcohol-free beers.

“Swedish breweries got in there early and put a lot of resources into development, and it's paying off now. Consumers are choosy and alcohol-free beer today is a high quality product,” she said.

While the major breweries have played a part, a large number of microbreweries have started up over recent years, and helped draw attention to the wide variety when it comes to beer. This has meant that there are no longer only alcohol-free lagers, but also IPAs, ales, and porters. 

The biggest market for alcohol-free beer is young people living in Sweden's major cities, and as alcohol-free beer has risen in popularity, sales of low-alcohol beer or lättöl have fallen. Since 2018, more alcohol-free beers have been sold than lättöl, which has long been a popular choice for lunch and the only alternative outside Systembolaget's opening hours, and is most popular with middle-aged men.

Another of the reasons for booming sales of alcohol-free beer could well be an increased interest in healthy eating and drinking habits. While healthy food and exercise have long been important to Swedish consumers, and this has been reflected in sales figures within those sectors, there appears to be increasing attention paid to drinks and particularly alcohol.

“I think people want to drink different things at different occasions. We see in our surveys that many people don't only drink alcohol-free beverages, but earlier when someone for some reason didn't want a beer with alcohol, they would turn to water or soda,” said Fondberg.