FINLAND: Alcohol consumption declined during the first wave of the corona epidemic – retail sales increased

According to estimates by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the total alcohol consumption of Finns decreased last spring during the first wave of the corona epidemic and related control measures. THL estimates that total alcohol consumption in April – June was about 10 per cent lower than in the corresponding period of the previous year. THL calculates consumption based on sales data and estimates obtained from various supply channels.

However, the change in alcohol consumption did not occur evenly in all population groups. The majority of respondents said their alcohol use remained unchanged, 12 per cent said they had reduced, and 8 per cent had increased their alcohol use during the epidemic.

On the one hand, those under the age of 35 and, those whose financial situation had deteriorated during the epidemic had changed their consumption the most. 

“Overall, the epidemic seems to have strengthened the development of alcohol consumption in recent years,” says Pia Mäkelä , THL’s research professor. “Alcohol consumption has declined since 2007, and last year alone in 2019 by four per cent. The effects of the epidemic and the containment measures have been parallel.”

Alko’s and retail sales increased

The most substantial impact of the epidemic has been on alcohol supply channels. Restaurant service stopped as expected in April – May when restaurants and cafés were closed by a government decree. Passenger imports came to a halt when foreign tourism was severely restricted. As a result of the restrictive measures, the purchase of alcohol was transferred to Alko’s stores and retail. Their combined sales in weeks 11-25 increased by a total of 16 per cent compared to the corresponding weeks of the previous year. 

Alcohol retail sales grew the most in Uusimaa, Southwest Finland and Åland. However, it cannot be concluded from this that total consumption has increased in these areas. In the same places, the share of on-trade and passenger imports is likely to be higher than average, and retail sales are expected to increase as these channels close.

“Alcohol consumption moved to the private sphere, as did the life of Finns in general during gathering restrictions and teleworking,” reminds Katariina Warpenius, THL’s specialist researcher.

There are no estimates of the development of online alcohol trade and home manufacturing during the corona epidemic. E-commerce has been so low in the past that even a large percentage increase is unlikely to have a significant impact on the overall picture of alcohol consumption.

There were no significant changes in the popularity of different beverages as a result of the epidemic. The distribution of total consumption between different beverages varied quite little in 2019, mainly the share of brewery products increased slightly in the summer. In 2020, this increase in consumption of brewery products coincided with the end of spring.

Source: THL