It might only have a 0.2% share of the total spirits market, but flavoured vodkas' 24% year-on-year growth (to July 12 2008) speaks volumes about the categor y's mounting popularity.
With brands ranging from mainstream flavours
such as citrus, vanilla, apple, chocolate and raspberry, to the more unusual red pepper, green tea, ginger, fennel and horseradish, all consumer tastes are catered for. And it's a category
producers are keen to exploit, wi th all the major players having multiple flavoured vodkas in their portfolio.
Diageo is making a fresh attempt to crack the flavoured vodka market with the trial of Lime Smirnoff and Green Apple Smirnoff in selected retailers and bars in Bristol for six weeks, starting
This follows previous attempts by the producer to establish a range of flavoured vodkas in
retail, including Bloody (hot spice and pepper), Creamed (vanilla and burnt spice) and Black'n'Blue (natural berry flavours). On sale in specialist outlets throughout the
nineties, the range was withdrawn
due to "lack of understanding of the flavoured vodka market", according to a spokeswoman.
Diageo takes a second shot
Second time round and Diageo claims the time is now right to try again. "Both Lime and Green Apple Smirnoff are great options for retailers looking to differentiate their vodka serves," says Mike Martin, senior innovation manager at Diageo. "They complement popular serves of Smirnoff, providing additional flavour to a classic long mixed drink. The Bristol test will aim to create further excitement and consumer interest in the vodka category, while driving incremental profit for retailers."
Martin adds that Diageo will fully evaluate the results of the test before deciding on future plans for the products .
Consumers are increasingly demanding new experiences and flavoured vodka can fill that niche, according to Whyte & Mackay's off-trade sales director John Bradbury. "There is always potential for growth with brands that bring innovation and excitement to the category," he says.
Earlier this year, Whyte & Mackay introduced Pinky to the UK market - a vodka made in Scandinavia and hand-blended with violets, rose petals and wild strawberries. "With Pinky we have a unique offering in that it is a vodka designed by women and
flavoured with botanicals, including rose petals," Bradbury says.
"Since its launch the vodka has proven popular and has built up a resonance with its key consumers through its unique liquid and its innovative partnership with Agent Provocateur."
The link-up with the lingerie brand includes a heavyweight sampling campaign, with Pinky cocktails served to customers shopping in Agent Provocateur stores, and calling cards left at each event to let people know which shops stock the vodka and how to make their own cocktails at home.
Crucial time for Pernod
The development of Pernod Ricard's flavoured vodka offering will be a chief concern of the company following its acquisition of Vin & Sprit, the Swedish owner of Absolut vodka. In recent years, V&S has diversified the Absolut brand with a range of flavoured spin-offs, but Pernod intends to limit that
The company's managing director, Pierre Pringuet, warns that too many flavours can dilute the image of a brand.
"In flavoured vodka, it has not
had the right approach in the late nineties and early 2000s when they started to launch basically a new flavour every six months," he says. "Does it do any good to the brand? Possibly not. If you just introduce a new flavour and don't support it with adequate communication it doesn't work.
"All of those new launches must be something new with adequate support to communicate to the consumer."
In an effort not to widen the range, Pernod intends to replace existing variants with one new flavour at a time, rather than having multiple variants on the market, Pringuet adds.
While recognising that there is "significant consumer interest in flavoured vodka to grow the market segment", Halewood's Sue Beck
warns that consumers "need to understand the added value as they aren't willing to pay a huge price premium".
What's that flavour?
Flavoured vodka isn't widely understood by shoppers, who don't know what it should be drunk with,
Beck adds. For producers looking to develop
their flavoured vodka offering,
she has this message: "Brands need to encourage serving suggestions to help consumers find a place for flavoured vodkas in their repertoire."
out of a varied range of flavoured vodkas by the
major multiples has brought the category into the mainstream and exposed consumers to a new way of drinking vodka.
Asda's spirits buyer Andrew Tiffin forecasts big opportunities for the category: "Flavoured vodka is one of the fastest growing areas, more and more of our suppliers are exploring and investigating the opportunities to expand. If our suppliers introduce an unusual flavour then we are always keen to find out more, as dedicated customers," he says.
Mark Davis, Pernod 's marketing development director, is similarly confident that the flavoured vodka category has got great potential for expansion. "As consumers become more adventurous with their spirit repertoire and with cocktails at home, there is likely to be room for further growth," he predicts.
What's new at the big producers
Whyte & Mackay
The Glaswegian distiller
has given its Vladivar vodka
a second packaging makeover in two years. The new look, which was designed to broaden the brand's appeal to 18 to 34 s, took its inspiration from the original Vladivar branding and saw the return of the Romanov eagle crest and the bright blue colour. The company is now
preparing to "kick
off the biggest consumer campaign we have undertaken for many years," says off-trade sales director John Bradbury. "Innovation will play an important part in the future of the brands as it is vital to have engaging marketing campaigns that will excite the consumer," he adds.
Wyborowa has founded its own subversive movement to tell UK consumers and the trade that "there's no
wodka". The tongue-in-cheek integrated campaign is part of Pernod's biggest UK advertising drive since it was launched , according to marketing development director Mark Davis. The campaign is designed to reach
more than one million 25 to 35-year-olds in London and the south through "street protests". It also includes marking 120,000 bottles of Wyborowa Pure with the Wodka message.
Just two months after Pernod won the race to buy Absolut vodka, the first TV campaign for the brand in the UK has been launched, along with
a bottle-clad gift pack. Created exclusively for the UK market through Sainsbury's. The Absolut Summer pack features a bottle of Absolut in a clear plastic skin covered in pictures of butterflies (rrp £14.99).
Diageo has sealed a $900 million deal to buy 50 % of Dutch vodka brand Ketel One . Ketel One sells 1.9 million cases annually,
mainly in the US. "We're going to be marketing the product here
shortly," Chris Lock, Diageo's marketing manager, says. "It has superb success in the States. It's a more expensive vodka than Smirnoff Black, and so it gives us a very strong portfolio ladder. Consumers will be able to trade up from Smirnoff Red, to Smirnoff Black and then Ketel One." While admitting that Diageo has an "aggressive set of targets" in terms of distribution and sales, Lock would not reveal any specific marketing plans for the brand.
Skyy vodka is having another go at cracking the UK market with a
£1.5 million marketing budget. It's the first significant spend in the UK since distribution of the Campari-owned brand was picked up by Cellar Trends from Fior Brands, following the latter's demise last year. Campari has earmarked the UK as a market with major potential for growth outside the US, where almost 90% of
Skyy's sales are currently generated. Activity includes sponsorship of the movie version of Sex & The City to appeal to independent-minded professional women aged 25 to 35, and fashion-conscious "metro-males" from 20 to 35.
The off-trade flavoured vodka market
Year to July 14 2007:
Year to July 12 2008: