ESTONIA - Consumption trends

Although the domestic sales of alcohol have dropped dramatically in recent years leading to a decrease in consumption, the year-on-year Estonian-Latvian border trade has not diminished alcohol consumption altogether. The year 2017 brought about a reverse in the downward trend in alcohol consumption. Thus, consumption in Estonia increased to 10.3 litres per adult in 2017 as of absolute alcohol compared to 10.2 litres in 2016. Consumption increased for all types of beverages, except for spirits. Compared to the previous year, the consumption of grape wine and vermouth increased the most (by +5% by volume percentage of alcohol), beer consumption increased by 2% and the consumption of light alcoholic beverages by 1%. Strong spirits consumption fell by almost 3% in total.

Illegal alcohol

Historically, there are two types of illegal spirits: illegally imported or illegal self-manufactured spirits. At the same time, due to the proliferation of the Estonian-Latvian border-trade, the concept of illegal alcohol has expanded. Drinks bought in Latvia to be brought to Estonia by paid in advance orders (not for their own consumption but rather reselling to other persons) is also considered as an illicit activity. This practice which until just recently was restricted to strong alcoholic beverages has now spread to all types of alcohol. A survey conducted in 2017 showed that 24% of people who bought alcohol in Latvia had brought alcohol to fulfil the orders of their acquaintances and 1% had brought alcohol directly for resale purposes. People often do not know that alcohol cannot be bought abroad through others. Despite this fact, the number of people involved in this type of illegal activity increased from 3% in 2016 to 5% in 2017. In the past years, the proportion of buyers of this type of illegal alcohol has stayed between  3-4% of all alcohol users.

Typically, people are motivated to buy illegal alcohol considering its lower price, as was the case in 2017, when 94% reported it as a main factor. At the same time, the credibility of the seller was considered very important for almost 77% of illegal alcohol buyers and the quality of alcohol for 71% of illegal alcohol buyers. 

Consumer habits

Estonian Insitute of Economic Research conducts each year a survey of the population aged 18-74 in order to ascertain the consumption habits of the Estonian inhabitants, where people´s drinking preferences and the frequencies of consumption of alcoholic beverages are studied. The latest survey revealed that the general assessment of residents about their consumption patterns has not changed significantly over the year. The survey showed that 83% of the population consumed alcohol and the share of alcohol consumers remained the same as a year before. If in 2016, 52% of respondents estimated their alcohol consumption to be low or moderate, then in 2017, there were 49% of such respondents. The share of moderate alcohol users increased by 2% to 26% and heavy users´ share by 1% to 5% of all users. The share of teetotal people in the country stayed at 17%. Alcohol choices for alcohol beverages have not changed significantly over the past year. The most popular consumer alcoholic beverage continued to be grape wine, which was consumed in 2017 by 87% of adult alcohol users. Wine consumption has increased since 2014, and consumers have come from both women and men. Estonian inhabitants drink beer most often, which 9% of consumers drink every day, 15% several times a week compared to wine drinkers - 1% drink every day and 5% drink two times a week. Vodka and other strong spirits are consumed by 53% and 64% of alcohol consumers. 44% of alcohol users consumed long-drinks and cider during the year but only 2% of them on a weekly basis.

There were certain differences between the socio-demographic groups in alcohol consumption habits. Thus, there were significantly more men among consumers of strong alcohol and beer than women, beer was consumed by 83% male and 47% female users. Men also drink beer more often. 76% of male alcohol users drink vodka and 80% drink other strong alcohol, among female alcohol drinkers 29% and 47% respectively. Older people used to drink vodka more often. At least once a month, vodka was consumed by 19% of 65-74-year olds (for comparison 11% of 18-29-year olds). 28% of alcohol-consuming women and 23% of men drank wine at least once a month. The wines are more often preferred by middle-aged people. In general, in 2017, 85% of men and 81% of women reported as alcohol consumers (in 2016 89% and 79% respectively).

Source: Alcohol, market and consumption and harms in Estonia. Yearbook 2018