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Northern Stars

Scandinavia has a growing market for merchandise. Kjell Harbom explains how it is developing.

The promotional market in Sweden hit an all-time high in 2016 of six billion Swedish krone, (€600m) from a country with a population of just nine million. Since 2012 the market has grown by 4%, and at the same time the organisation named the industry as product media. Sweden is the biggest of the Scandinavian countries, representing approximately 50% of the total, with Norway and Denmark 25% each.

There are 570 registered promotional product distributors, who are core to the industry but there are also a number of smaller companies selling a wider range of products such as print and workwear, and this brings the total to around 1,000. There are about 500 suppliers, who don’t focus much on distributors, and largely sell to anyone. There are around 2,500 customers.

Industry research

We did a survey in 2015, the Power of Product Media, based on 2,309 end user responses. We found that all those surveyed had at least one promotional item in their possession, with 85% of them knowing what the product was and who gave it to them. In a normal household in Sweden, people have at least seven branded items, most usually a pen, keyring, T-shirt, bag and mug.

One third of the population use a promotional product every day and 62% use one every week. We also found a difference in gender, for example men in the age group 34-55 use promotional products more than women in the same group.

Those in the age group 16-34 want to have more promotional products if they are useful and design driven. One challenge is to make more products attractive to women. For example, they don’t want T-shirts in standard sizes, but in specific female sizes. Having checked many of our suppliers, much of what they sell is in these standard sizes and only 20% in female sizes, yet 50% of the Swedish population is female.

When we asked end-user customers, what was the most important feature in their selection, they said useful, good quality, good design and this was over and above the importance of low price. We encourage our distributor members to talk less about the price of promotional products and really sell the benefits and relevance to the brand but as you know in the UK, our industries have a perceived reputation of low cost giveaway items. Like the UK and probably across the world, the top selling items are pens, followed by the mug, T-shirt, bags and then umbrellas.


Compliance has made a difference to the industry. There area lot of new regulations coming from the EU, and as more European organisations want parity, suppliers and distributors need to make sure they are following guidelines and selling compliant product.

Unfortunately, our industry is sometimes tarnished by poor quality products, which is at odds with what end-users want. I am currently working on a project to represent our industry to create a new ISO standard as a chain of custody. Discussions centre on transparency and working with the best suppliers around the world, while highlighting poor practice.

Kjell Harbom is CEO of SBR, which represents the Swedish promotional product market.


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