Business Booming for Online Alcohol Retailers, Even Though Online Sales Aren’t Legal

Alþingi has yet to vote on whether private Icelandic retailers will be allowed to sell alcohol online, but RÚV reports that business is already booming for sellers willing to risk wading into this lucrative market before online sales are legalized.

Starting July 1, craft breweries will be allowed to sell alcohol on their premises. Alþingi voted in favour of this change on Wednesday. The bill to allow private retailers to sell alcohol online, however, was not voted on before the end of parliament’s session. But this hasn’t stopped Elías Blöndal Guðjónsson, co-owner of the online alcohol retailer Santewines SAS, from cashing in this holiday weekend. And not just this weekend, either: Like a small number of fellow sellers willing to take the risk before online sales are legalized, Santewines has been selling alcohol online for over a year and sales are increasing all the time.

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June 17th is Iceland’s National Day, so while people would normally be queuing in Vínbúð locations around the country to stock up on bevvies for the weekend, such wasn’t possible on Friday, when all state-run liquor store locations were closed. So many of these would-be customers hopped over to Elías’ website instead.

Elías said he isn’t worried about his operation being shut down, even though online alcohol sales haven’t been legalized yet. “We have all our ducks in a row and everything’s in order. We have a French company that is handling the online shop and legal products and we’re no more afraid than Amazon or EBay,” he remarked.

“I don’t actually think there are many people who have it out for the business,” Elías concluded. “Maybe ÁTVR [the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company, which runs Iceland’s Vínbúð stores], and maybe some Progressive Party MPs. […] The police were actually out here the other day, but they were just picking up an order.”

Almost Half Of Icelanders Want Alcohol In Supermarkets

alcohol in iceland

About half of Icelanders want to buy wine and beer alongside their other groceries, while fewer would support the sale of strong alcohol outside of government-run stores, Vísir reports.

The perennial debate about breaking the state’s monopoly on alcohol sales rages on, with polling showing steady support for permitting the sale of alcohol in private stores. A survey conducted in February by Maskína for Vísir suggests that 47.6% of Icelanders support the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores, up from 43.4% in 2021.

Meanwhile, just 22.4% of respondents are in favour of strong alcohol being sold in private stores, up from 19.1% last year.

Those aged 30 to 39 are most in favour of selling alcohol in private stores, with 65.8% in this age group supporting the sale of beer and wine outside of Vínbúð locations. Icelanders over 60 are least supportive of breaking the state monopoly, with just 25.8% in favour of wine and beer sales in grocery stores.

Plan on drinking? Plan ahead

The lack of alcoholic beverages in Icelandic grocery stores catches many visitors to the country by surprise. Tourists are often advised to “do as the locals do” and make full use of their duty-free alcohol allowance when entering the country, should they plan in imbibing. The state-run alcohol stores, Vínbúð, are expensive, and opening hours can be sporadic during holidays and in more rural parts of the country. Vínbúð stores are always closed on Sunday.

Skál! New Bill Would Allow Breweries to Sell Beer On-Site

A new bill would make it legal for small-scale breweries to sell alcohol on site. Vísir reports that the bill, presented by Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson, would allow breweries to sell bottled or can beer to visitors without having to resort to complicated and expensive workarounds, like applying for a liquor license and opening an on-site bar.

A similar bill was presented by former Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, but was met with protest from the state liquor authority (ÁTVR), which argued that the proposed changes would undermine state-run liquor stores.

See Also: Local Distributor Flouts Prohibitions on Home Beer Delivery

ÁTVR recently faced a setback in a similar attempt to quash alcohol retail on the open market. Just last week, the Reykjavík District Court ruled against the authority in its case against Sante ehf., Santewine SAS, and Bjórland, retail outlets that have begun selling alcohol outside of the state monopoly. In its case, ÁTVR demanded that these companies cease operations because ÁTVR holds the exclusive right to sell alcohol in Iceland.

ÁTVR has decided to appeal the recent ruling, but Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, whose ministry oversees ÁTVR, would like to see the current bill go even further, saying he’d like to see traditional online alcohol retail permitted in Iceland.