5-4-3-2-1-0: History of Alko

Alko’s varied history goes back to 1932, when the company was founded.

Home distilling was banned. Factories were allowed to make alcohol, and distilleries sprang up here and there. Beverages could be sold in ordinary shops, but various regulations were gradually introduced. At the beginning of the new century, there were 1,066 alcohol shops in Finnish towns.

The Senate prohibited the distribution of alcoholic beverages on account of the Great War. The serving of alcoholic beverages was allowed only in first-class restaurants.

The Prohibition Act enters into force on 1 June 1919. The Act prohibited the production, transportation, sale and storage of alcohol. A government-owned company, Valtion Alkoholiliike - Statens Alkoholrörelse, was established to manage the sale of alcohol for medicinal, technical and scientific purposes.

A consultative referendum on prohibition was held in 1931, in which more than 70 percent voted for the repeal of the Act.

From the founding of Alko to the present

The Parliament repealed the Prohibition Act by 120 votes to 45, and the Alcohol Act was ratified on 9 February 1932. Government-owned Oy Alkoholiliike Ab was granted an exclusive right to import, export, produce and sell alcoholic beverages.

Alko started operations on 5 April 1932 at 10:00 – hence the familiar sequence of numbers: 5-4-3-2-1-0. The opening of the alcohol company was preceded by a consultative referendum.

The first 48 shops were opened on 5 April 1932 at 10:00, 47 of which in towns and one in the rural municipality of Rovaniemi.

The first price list contained 164 products.

When the Winter War broke out, various measures were taken to restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages. For example, governors could prohibit the sale and serving of alcoholic beverages temporarily or completely.

The number of alcoholic beverages that could be bought was restricted.

As a result of the shortage of raw materials, illicit trade and unrest, a ‘shop certificate’ was introduced in Helsinki in September 1943 that entitled the holder to buy alcohol from a specific shop. The system, which was given the name ‘buyer control’, spread gradually across Finland. This is how ‘viinakortti’ (liquor card) – which is possibly the most famous means of control of the Finnish alcohol system – came into existence.

At the Parliament’s request, the ‘liquor card’ was developed into a means of social control. All purchases were recorded. A buyer control organisation was set up within the alcohol company.

Mild wines were exempted from buyer control.

Two major changes occurred in the 1950s: a cash register system was introduced and a shift to the consumption of milder beverages was encouraged.

After the arrival of Sweda cash registers, the salesperson was responsible for the entire sales transaction, including the handling of payments. The look of the shops changed, and bottles were placed upright on the shelves.

Strong beverages were exempted from buyer control in 1952. Long drinks were introduced in 1952 – the year in which the Olympics were held in Helsinki.

Alko had 92 shops and 974 sales staff, of whom 215 performed buyer control duties. Alcohol consumption, measured in pure alcohol, was 1.41 litres per capita.

In the Olympic year, Alko’s product range grew substantially. Most of the wines came from European countries. The spring price list contained 515 products.

The company’s 100th shop was opened on 1 April 1957 in Eerikinkatu, Turku.

The buyer control organisation established in the 1940s was dismantled, but the ‘liquor card’ remained in use.

A wine campaign was launched, with the aim of shifting consumption towards milder beverages and reducing the ‘drunk-oriented’ style of drinking. The prices of mild wines were lowered significantly, and those of fortified wines by a few percent. The prices of spirits were increased by a few percent. A well-known slogan encouraged people to favour mild beverages. Wine departments were introduced in shops, and brochures about wines and how to use them were made available. The publication of Alko’s customer magazine Viiniposti, currently Etiketti, began in 1965.

The first self-service shop was opened in Pohjoisesplanadi, Helsinki. The selection consisted of wines.

There were 130 shops and 965 sales staff. Alcohol consumption, measured in pure alcohol, was 2.88 litres per capita.

History of Alko

The new Act on alcohol and medium strength beer came into force on 1 January 1969: alcohol shops could now be opened in rural areas, and the previous age limit of 21 years was changed so that 18-year-olds were allowed to buy mild alcoholic beverages and 20-year-olds all alcoholic beverages. These age limits have remained the same until the present day.

The sale of medium strength beer was allowed in more than 17,000 grocer’s shops. Establishments licensed to sell medium strength beer began to emerge, and their number rose as high as 2,716 in 1969. The name of Oy Alkoholiliike Ab was changed to Oy Alko Ab.

The ‘liquor card’ was finally removed from use. The first self-service shop that stocked all types of beverages was opened in Espoo on 29 November 1971.

The wine campaign was expanded into consumer education activities. In addition to wines, information was provided on all alcoholic beverages and how to use them. The detrimental effects of alcohol and the basis for the alcohol policy were also addressed.

An increase in the consumption of alcohol was followed by a tightening of attitudes. For example, restoring the practice of selling medium strength beer in Alko shops was considered. Alcohol advertising was banned. The closing of alcohol shops on summer Saturdays was tested.

The company’s 200th shop was opened in Rajamäki on 17 January 1977.

In December, the Finnish Government approved the EU’s view that the retail sales monopoly based on social and health policy objectives could continue, but that all other areas of the monopoly would be dismantled. Amendments were required to both the Act on excise duty on alcoholic beverages and the Alcohol Act.

Finland joined the European Economic Area. The new Act on excise duty on alcohol came into force on 1 July 1994 and was reviewed on 1 January 1995. According to the new Act, excise duty based on the value of a beverage was replaced by excise duty based on alcohol content and the amount of alcohol.

A group of companies was established at the beginning of 1995, consisting of Alko Oy, which had an exclusive right to the retail sale of alcohol; Primalco Oy, which engaged in industry and export trade; and Alko-Yhtiöt Oy, which was the parent company and owned both Alko and Primalco. Alko-Yhtiöt Oy also had a restaurant business as a subsidiary.

Alko Oy had an exclusive right to the retail sale of beverages containing more than 4.7 percent alcohol by volume, with the exception of Finnish farm wines.

In 1995, Alko’s public authority tasks in regulating the alcohol trade ended. These tasks were transferred to the National Product Control Agency for Welfare and Health.

The changes that took effect in 1995 were due to Finland joining the European Economic Area at the beginning of 1994.

An agreement was concluded between Finland and the European Community, according to which Finnish import regulations on alcoholic beverages were to be harmonised with the EU regulations by the beginning of 2004.

A decision was made to separate Alko Oy from the Alko-Yhtiöt Group.

The last of Alko’s over-the-counter shops, located in Kruunuhaka, Helsinki, was transformed into a self-service shop.

Alko Oy started operations as an independent retailer of alcoholic beverages. The company is owned by the state and administered and controlled by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Alko Oy is a chain of shops specialising in alcoholic beverages. Alko does not produce the products that it sells, but purchases them from Finnish and international suppliers.

Alko Oy’s 70th anniversary. The company had 299 shops and 140 order points.

The 300th shop was opened on 22 January 2003 in Kupittaa, Turku.

The operating environment for the alcohol trade changed. At the beginning of 2004, EU regulations concerning imports of alcoholic beverages by travellers came into force in Finland. Finnish excise duties on alcoholic beverages were reduced on 1 March 2004.

At the end of 2004, Alko had 320 shops. Alko was involved in the National Alcohol Programme for 2004–2007, whose primary goal was to prevent and reduce the harmful effects of alcohol through joint efforts of the state, municipalities and businesses.

In 2004, following a structural change in sales resulting from the reduction of excise duties on alcoholic beverages, the sale of alcohol converted to 100 percent alcohol increased substantially. Sales were 13 percent higher than before the duties were changed.

Alko’s 75th anniversary on 5 April 2007.

Excise duties on alcoholic beverages were raised. In 2009, a responsibility programme entitled ‘In the Company of Children’ was launched.

Alko’s Board of Directors decided to transfer pension insurance management from its own pension fund to insurance companies. At the end of the year, Alko had 343 shops and 116 order points.

At the end of 2011, Alko had 348 shops. Five new shops were opened, and 21 shops were moved to new locations. The retail network was supplemented by 110 order points.

Alko’s 80th anniversary on 5 April 2012.

Hille Korhonen took up the position of President & CEO.

Alko opened its online shop.

Alko’s store concept was renewed. Leena Laitinen started as President & CEO of Alko.

Alko updated its strategy. The new strategy takes Alko’s responsibility and customer experience in an even more ambitious direction.

Alko launched its own mobile app. At the end of the year, Alko had 361 shops and 99 pick-up points.

Alko introduced the Alkotoive.fi online service, through which customers can request that a certain product be stocked by their local store.

Alko ranked first for customer experience for the 13th year running in Data & Marketing Association of Finland’s 2021 survey.

Alko celebrated its 90th anniversary. The first Alko stores were opened on 5 April 1932 at 10:00 am.