My brother used to live in Sweden and when, ten years ago, I saw and heard about the Systembolaget stores I recoiled at the regulation and perceived lack of choice offered by the system.
Last week, I was back in Stockholm to meet with our new distributors and as part of the learning process, we visited a flagship store to assess the opportunities and challenges. I have to say that in general I was impressed. Pricing was not as high as anticipated, the choice was extensive, imaginatively ranged and inclusive of a great many big names and ultra premium selections.
The biggest difference of course is in the balance of formats that wine is sold in. Bag in box accounts for 60% in Sweden! But to call some of the formats "bag in box" is to do them an injustice as the innovation and creativity far outweighs anything that we see here in the UK.
In past blog posts, I have raised the issue of the lack of imagination in terms of packaging in the UK as being at the heart of our retail woes - what other industry uses essentially the same packaging to sell entry level products and luxury products? Whether our wine is £4 or £40 we package it in a 75cl glass bottle and expect the consumer to decipher whether the gloss of the label is authentic or little more than lipstick on a pig.
I'm with other commentators who have suggested that we really do need to encourage a move to alternative packages for everyday wine, not only for the opportunity it would give all of us to motivate trading up but also for environmental reasons.