Russian tourists buy expensive deluxe alcoholic drinks from Finland
Cognac and champagne, in particular, find their way across the eastern border. Norwegians, in turn, are less picky: they visit the Alko outlets in Northern Finland to buy all sorts of booze.
By Minna Pölkki
Russian tourists spend a fair bit of money in Finland on goods that the Finns themselves regard as dinningly expensive: they buy big-ticket bottles of deluxe alcoholic drinks from the outlets of Alko, the Finnish state-owned retail monopoly for spirits, wines, and strong beer.
Often the shopping baskets of Russian customers in the Alko branches near the eastern border contain the most expensive cognacs and whiskies available, plus fine champagnes and French and Italian quality wines.
“Premium products, for example, the most expensive XO cognacs, are actually cheaper in Finland than in Russia. Buying one’s drinks under tax-free rules also leads to additional discounts”, explains Mikko Poutanen, the store manager of the Hamina and Vironlahti outlets of Alko.
Apart from the cheaper prices of the premium drinks, what also attracts Russian customers to the outlets in Finland is the fact that they can trust the quality here.
The Russian visitors often buy in bulk. For example, the previous week the cognac orders of one well-heeled Russian customer matched in value an entire average day’s takings at the Vironlahti Alko, Poutanen describes.
More alcohol than before is being carried across the western border, too. This is because the Swedish krona has strengthened in value in relation to the euro.
According to store manager Anu Heikkala from Alko’s Tornio outlet, the Swedes' purchases from Finland focus especially on fortified wines, which are not available back home in Sweden.
They also like to buy berry liqueurs and strong spirits.
The Norwegians nip across to the Alko outlets in Northern Finland to buy all sorts of alcoholic drinks, for the price level in Finland is lower than in Norway across the board. They are not choosy about what they buy.
For example, in Utsjoki’s Karigasniemi, which is the northernmost community in Finland, a local K-supermarket acts as a collection point for pre-ordered Alko products.
It is frequently visited by shoppers from across the Norwegian border.
“I'd say 99 per cent of our Alko pre-orders go to Norway. The Norwegians buy clear spirits, cognacs, whiskies, and wines”, shopkeeper Jaana Halonen says.
Of all the Alko outlets in the entire country, the one operating inside Lappeenranta’s Prisma department store is the clear leader when it comes to tax-free purchases.
“Of course the Russians would not buy vodka here. Instead, they favour the most expensive cognacs and champagne. Perhaps not on a daily basis, but definitely on a weekly basis”, says store manager Marjut Tuominen-Himanen.
The generous dimensions of the alcohol purchases by the Russian tourists were first reported by the economic journal Talouselämä.
In previous years the share of premium drinks in the Russian tourists’ alcohol purchases in Finland was nevertheless clearly even greater than it is today, as the ranks of the middle-class begin to swell.
“Nowadays, more and more ordinary Russians come here by bus for a day’s shopping trip, and they also visit Alko in the process”, Tuominen-Himanen explains.
So what do people generally buy in connection with their border-crossing shopping trips?
The Finns bring from Sweden smokeless tobacco or snus, reindeer meat, drinks such as carbonated soft drinks, juices, sparkling waters, mild beers, and wines.
The Swedes, in turn, come to Finland to buy rye bread, sausages, convenience foods, eggs, medium-strength beers and other alcoholic beverages available in grocery stores.
The Norwegians buy from Finland beef, pork, sugar, wheat flour, milk, eggs, coffee, sausages, medium-strength beers, tobacco products, alcoholic beverages in general, and fuel, especially diesel.
The Finns go to Norwegian suppliers for prawn products and brown goat cheese, which is not available in Finland, and also for clothes, because for those Finns living near the Norwegian border the nearest decent shopping centres are on the Norwegian side.
The Russians come to Finland to purchase perishable goods such as vegetable oil, fish products, tea, instant coffee granules, cheeses, baby food, nappies, butter, and detergents.
The Russians also like to buy consumer goods such as clothes and shoes from Finland.
The two product groups that the Finns mostly buy from Russia are fuel and tobacco products. As we noted in an earlier article, a very large proportion of the cigarettes smoked in the south-east of the country carry Russian-language health warnings.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.9.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Number of Russian visitors to Finland is increasing steadily (22.3.2012)
Finland is number-one destination for Russians (19.12.2011)
Tourism from Russia has become a billion-euro business (27.9.2011)
Tourism from Russia increases tax-free sales in southeastern city of Lappeenranta (22.6.2010)
Vaalimaa has great expectations for Russian casino tourists (6.9.2012)
Southeastern hypermarkets compete furiously over customers - both Finnish and Russian alike (21.8.2012)
Cigarettes sold on eastern border come from Russia (14.8.2012)
MINNA PÖLKKI / Helsingin Sanomat