Vodka brands top spirits league ahead of whiskies

05 September, 2008

A rguably matching only cider in the BWS department, it's been a case of success, success and more success for the main vodka brands in the past year.

Only Whyte & Mackay's Vladivar and the Winerite own-label Royal Czar were losers in a category where the remainder of the top 10 achieved double-digit growth.

Smirnoff and Glen's continue to exert a stranglehold on the category, together now accounting for almost half of the vodka bought in the on-trade.

The year saw Glen Catrine's Glen's overtake both Bell's and Famous Grouse to secure second place in the overall spirits league behind Smirnoff, testament both to the swing from whisky to vodka in the market over the past decade and Glen Catrine's success in driving distribution and sales for its brands on the back of very little marketing money.

By way of contrast, Diageo continues to pump millions into advertising and product development, with a range of flavoured vodkas and an RTD containing Ocean Spray cranberry juice both appearing over the summer.

The other significant move in the top 10 is the appearance of Russian Standard

- which is owned by billionaire businessman Roustam Tarik o

- just a year after its launch.

Sales of just under 13 million represent a good result for distributor First Drinks Brands in year one, and more than justify the money put into marketing the brand.

Tariko's declared aim to be number one in premium vodka doesn't look too far-fetched with sales already half those of Absolut - and rival Russian vodka brand Stolichnaya already trailing well behind.

The big issue

While vodka sales continue to bounce along on the back of consumers' collective thirst for neutrality, the longer-term impact for the brand players could be felt in the boardroom.

Absolut has had an impressive year in the run-up to its sale to Pernod Ricard on the back of launches of flavours and gift packs, and the acquisition could see it push on to consolidate what is now a top 20 off-trade spirits position.

Pernod's ownership of Beefeater and Havana Club in rival categories certainly hasn't done those brands any harm.

Question marks remain over the future of Stolichnaya, the marketing rights to which Pernod is giving up in the wake of Absolut.

Speculation is that the brand will be sold by Russian owner SPI, though as Diageo has shown with the buy-in to Ketel One, there are plenty of other premium brands on the world stage that could prove attractive to major players instead.

Vodka in figures

Value: 787 million

(2007: 697 million)

Change: +13%

Volume: 616,000hl (2007: 556,000hl)

Change: +11%

Source: Nielsen year to Aug 9 2008

Top 10 vodka brands

1 Smirnoff Red Label+16%

2 Glen's +22%

3 Absolut+46%

4 Chekov+10%

5 Red Square+13%

6 Russian Standard-

7 Vladivar-12%

8 1860 Imperial+26%

9 Prince Consort+14

10 Royal Czar-15%

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