sweden and alcohol

I got a brilliant idea for a pet project to teach myself graphic design! Designing a wine label! In Canada (and Australia), the few times that I have attempted to buy wine have often been a flop. Of course, it could have to do with going to a “normal” store as opposed to a specialized wine store with knowledgeable employees. But in any case, some wine companies use extremely gimmicky packaging in the hopes of attracting a sale – especially in Australia. And of course I am skeptical that the wine could possibly be any good. For example, Naked Grape:

Far too “pretty” and obviously targeted towards females that don’t know any better. Of course I haven’t been suckered into buying it, but I got the opportunity to try it at a party in Canada, and it confirmed how horrible it was… This guy wrote a spot on review of Naked Grape. This isn’t a unique case, as I’ve encountered bad wine in pretty packages on other occasions.

When I think about the marketing ploy to attract naive female buyers into purchasing alcohol based on pretty packaging, it’s actually quite insulting to my intelligence as a consumer. I discussed this a little with Per, and actually, I came to the conclusion that I am just really snobby when it comes to most things – such as movies, music,  etc. and my opinion on wine isn’t much different.

Because the sad part is, the marketing works. When I see what 90% of females purchase and consume for alcohol – syrupy-sweet wine coolers/cider (Canadian and Swedish terms differ but the products are similar), pink, fizzy wine “beverages”,  sour grape juice with a horrible alcohol taste in a pretty package sold under the guise of “wine”. But the marketing works, and they become repeat, satisfied customers. I just think that if most consumers had the opportunity to try and understand something that was higher quality, they would realize what they had before was quite bad. Yes, I know how snobby I sound! It reminds me of some of the snobby art philosophers I read about and reacted to in school: “we know what’s good art, but the masses aren’t educated enough to know what is good.” I’m barely knowledgeable about wine, but I know bad wine when I taste it.

It’s interesting to hear so many negative things about Systembolaget, which is the state-controlled monopoly seller for alcohol in Sweden. Sure, the prices for alcohol in Germany and France, and even the Netherlands is much, much lower, but I don’t exactly have access to a car to make a trip to load up and bring it back like many Swedes do. I found the prices for beer and liquor to be roughly the same as in Alberta. The prices for wine I would say are more reasonable! In Alberta, I came to the conclusion that a decent, drinkable wine could not be bought for less than $14. In Sweden I’ve had a few decent bottles of wines for the perceived-to-be-outrageously overpriced $9! And mediocre wine according to “them”.

I went to Systembolaget yesterday to do some research for my graphic design project. I had a number of interesting observations:

– wine purchasers were mainly men (80%), but it could depend on the time of day I visited

– there weren’t as many loud and obnoxious packaging as in Canada or Australia. Even the wines from Australia looked almost austere.

– the white and rose wines seemed to use more flashy packaging than red wines… some of them fell into the “must taste bad” category from my view

– I observed 2 young females in their early 20’s browsing the wines looking completely lost. I think they ended up buying a bottle of rose wine…

– one woman in checkout had 2 slim blue bottles of wine (German riesling?)…  Another case study of effective marketing towards women??

I might gamble to say that maybe Systembolaget doesn’t sell absolutely horrible wines in the way that Canada does? Per said he’s never encountered a low quality wine in the way I’ve described. But after all, Systembolaget has educated purchasers that make the buying decisions for the whole country. And at every store, their personnel are all educated in wine and alcohol, which is great if you need assistance.

Yesterday was actually only the second time I’ve bought wine in Sweden, because I don’t buy wine unless to share with someone else. A whole bottle is a bit much for one person! I might do further research to test the theory of whether Systembolaget sells any horrible wine. It seems like a fun experiment, but the risk of spending not exactly student pocket change for a bad hangover makes me a little hesitant. Maybe I should engage some of the employees who speak good English  in a conversation? Tell them that I’m skeptical to try a bottle of white wine because it has a bright pink label (*wish I took a photo of it – it cast an eerie glow onto the contents, making it turn an unappetizing colour), and whether it is a sign of low quality?

I’ve heard people complain about the hours of Systembolaget, but I don’t find them to be that unreasonable since many of the provinces in Canada are the same. 3.5% beer and lower is sold in the grocery stores in Sweden, which we don’t do in Alberta. Okay, so in Alberta we can buy alcohol at almost any hour, but I’ve hardly taken advantage of this convenience. Mostly I feel bad for the employees that have to work such late hours.

Overall I would say the selection at Systembolaget is very good. I like the fact that I can try a few different brands of Belgian and British beers quite easily every time I shop. If I have one complaint, it is that Swedish beer isn’t very good, with the exception of a few higher priced beers that come from smaller breweries. Most of them taste more ore less the same, a bit watery, with not much taste or character to them. But they are drinkable and cheap, and much preferred over syrupy sweet cider beverages. But the big, mass produced North American beers are like that as well; there are good, interesting beers produced by smaller breweries, naturally with a higher price tag.

Back to my idea about redesigning a wine label. I’m not saying that wine labels should be boring, ugly, or conservative. In fact, I would say another reason I was compelled towards this project is that I find it difficult to remember wines I’ve tried and liked because the labels tend to be indistinguishable and not very memorable, which means I fail in repurchasing it. I think a label can communicate elegance while still looking fresh and unique. I found out about Stockholm Design Lab, whose work I love and wouldn’t mind working for! They designed this label:

In the end, this raises an ethical question for me: how would I feel about working on or designing for a client who had products I didn’t support or believe in?

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One thought on “sweden and alcohol

  1. I also tend to think that Systemet has a good inventory. For being a state monopoly, they care about their image, huh? I like to try out different wines; some are better than others, but not have been really disappointing (so far). Maybe it depends on the price class (however, even cheaper wines have actually been okay, especially with food). The funny thing is, when we go abroad and buy alcohol from a grocery, I think to myself, “does Systemet have this? What if it’s not good?” I guess I’m tending to think that, if Systembolaget has it, it must be somewhat decent.

    I don’t like sweet wines, but I found out over the years that not all people share my taste. At the risk of being half snobby here, I think that sweet-wine people don’t appreciate wine to food; they’d rather drink while chatting, so they drink the ones that just taste sweet. But the point is, people have different tastes and people have different drinking habits. Thus, different labelling for different target groups?

    (Away from wine, I think that beer labelling is intersting too, since most beers they sell are lagers anyway and lagers taste about same, but the packaging differs from the “manly” beers to the “youthful” summer beers, and even minimalistically designed beer cans. Eco beers have leaves, manly beers have moose, strong beers have large bold fonts, etc. but lagers all taste similar)

    For saving a half-drunk bottle of wine until a later time, I recommend “Wine Savers”, which I bought from Cervera. It’s a vaccuum pump for wines, so you don’t have to feel guilty buying a whole bottle if you can’t finish it at one go (We’re only two people in this household too).

    And hey, some German Riesling — they tend to come in those “chic” bottles, but some bottles, I must agree, are ugly — are quite good! Not on it’s own, of course, but with shirmp or havskräftor 🙂

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