Force to be reckoned with

There’s no stopping Russian Standard and its soaring sales. Since the vodka brand came on the scene in 2007, it has raced up the league of fastest-growing spirits brands thanks to the backing of First Drinks and a comprehensive package of support in the UK.

This year’s 52% growth may have slowed from last year’s staggering 150%, but it proves that First Drinks’ unswerving focus on the brand’s Russian heritage is continuing to appeal to people wanting a vodka that genuinely hails from its homeland.

Senior brand manager Joanne Birkitt puts the brand’s success down to “discerning consumers increasingly looking for authentic brands” and a surge in the popularity of premium variants.

“Russian Standard has attracted more than 500,000 new consumers to the brand,” she says. “We have invested heavily in marketing support, with a particular focus on educating the trade and consumers about Russian Standard’s credentials.

“Growth has accelerated due to the increased brand awareness we have generated and the wider distribution we gained through new listings.”?First Drinks’ decision to plough £6 million into the brand in 2010 alone has also helped cement its appeal, with a new campaign targeting music and film lovers.

“The first stage of the campaign saw consumers of Russian Standard win free tickets to exclusive live performances from the Noisettes. As well as a series of nationwide music gigs, we also have major advertising, sampling and off and on-trade support planned for the rest of the year,” Birkitt adds.

Compared with last year, when four of the seven fastest-growing spirits brands were vodkas, this year Russian Standard is the only vodka putting in an appearance.

Emerging blends?With three of the brands in the top five spirits line-up flying the flag for blended whisky, it appears the sub-category could be making a comeback. This follows its fall from grace in June 2008, when vodka overtook blended Scotch whisky to become the UK’s bestselling spirit in the off-trade.

High Commissioner is a blend which chooses to eschew funky packaging revamps and major ad campaigns in favour of a simple bottle design that communicates its budget positioning.

This year’s 44% rise is largely due to High Commissioner’s widespread distribution in the multiples and loyal band of followers wanting a value-for-money blend.

Grant’s follows closely with 40% growth thanks to a significant investment in marketing – again by First Drinks. In March, the brand sponsored Classic FM Live at the Royal Albert Hall for the second successive year, backed by advertising, as well as PR and sampling activity, which reached some 10 million people.

Brand manager Harriet Knight says: “Grant’s is a versatile blended Scotch whisky but I think where the brand has succeeded in recent years is in educating the trade and consumers about blended whisky and through a wide-reaching sampling campaign.

“We have evolved the Grant’s After Hours campaign this year, including further promotional activity with Classic FM and the hugely successful online After Hours Club, which now includes a whisky bar, a music room and the garden terrace, which is fronted by gardener and TV presenter Chris Beardshaw.”?First Drinks’ flagship malt Glenfiddich has also had a successful year with sales up 31%. A £1 million Christmas marketing campaign is largely responsible for the rise, according to senior brand manager Andy Corris.

“Glenfiddich enjoyed fantastic sales over Christmas last year thanks to the heavyweight integrated communications campaign. This activity was instrumental in the brand reclaiming the position of the UK’s number one malt whisky,” he says.

Don’t be surprised to see an even better performance from Glenfiddich in next year’s Growth Brands Report, following First Drinks’ announcement that it will invest £50 million in its portfolio of brands this year, with Glenfiddich the number one priority.

“We are continuing to invest heavily in trade and consumer marketing support, including a major new advertising campaign, sampling, PR and extensive digital activity through Glenfiddich Explorers, which aims to engage malt whisky fans online,” Corris says.

There will also be a focus on “key gifting occasions” such as Father’s Day and Christmas, and the brand’s new ambassador will be “busy educating the trade and consumers about malt whisky through sampling, mini mentoring events and experiential activity at whisky shows,” Corris adds.

Diageo boasts one brand in the top five thanks to Bell’s 36% growth. Bell’s popularity with consumers is due to its “rich tasting blend from the fine malts selected by our master distillers, such as Blair Athol, Caol Ila and Inchgower”, according to a spokesman.

“Some highlights that have contributed to the fantastic performance for Bell’s include a total blends increase of 3% during Christmas 2009, a 15% increase in value sales and an increase in share to 26.9%, both in the lead up to the festive season,” he adds.

New plans for the brand include a Father’s Day campaign in selected retailers rolling out from this month, plus the face of the brand, Arthur Bell, will return to TV screens and in the national press later this year.