Sensory perception

21 August, 2017

A new story is unfolding for vodka as country of origin gains importance. Ian Wisniewski uncovers Poland’s unique flavour profile

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VODKA HAS ALWAYS given us plenty to look at, with various brands providing abundant style and innovative design. Now it’s more a case of ‘audio-visual presentations’, as hearing a brand’s story has become an integral factor. And fundamental to this is country of origin, adding nuance as well as substance to the narrative.

Poland, for example, is one of the original sources of vodka – if not the actual origin – and the world’s key producer of rye expressions. Poland is also one of the top four vodka markets (after Russia, the US and Ukraine). Consequently, what happens domestically is a big deal.

The Polish Vodka Association was formed in 2006 to promote Polish vodka generically, both domestically and in export markets. President Andrzej Szumowski says: “In the past few years the vodka market in Poland declined gradually due to an increase in excise duties and consumers exploring other categories such as whisky, which is growing very fast.

“However, if there are no surprises in terms of legislation and excise duties, vodka production overall is expected to stabilise shortly on the Polish market at around 98.2m litres (100% of pure alcohol).”

However, as the national spirit, vodka continues its dominant position.

Joanna Gemza, U’Luvka brand manager at MV Poland, points out: “Vodka sales account for just under 60% of total spirit sales in Poland. This is mainly local vodka brands, with some premium and super-premium brands, but very few imported brands.”

Moreover, Gemza sees a significant trend emerging. “Consumers want to differentiate themselves and are prepared to pay more for premium and super-premium brands, which are aspirational but also more unusual and less well-known. This includes vodka but also other categories, such as scotch whisky,” she says. “Poles travel a lot and when they return home they’re looking for brands they tried abroad. Polish distributors are now actively looking for brands from around the world which have potential on the Polish market.”

However, there are practical challenges for brands to negotiate.

Jan-Roman Potocki, founder of Potocki vodka, says: “There’s a lot of movement in the artisanal vodka sector, but it’s difficult to get meaningful distribution, which is still more geared to mainstream brands than boutique products. This is gradually changing though, with a vibrant restaurant and bar scene.”

SPECIALIST RETAILERS

Meanwhile, discovering and purchasing a broader range of brands has become easier for consumers.

“Retail accounts for around 95% of vodka sales and in the past five years many specialist retailers have opened throughout Poland, in larger cities and smaller towns,” says Gemza. “Some retailers even accept orders from customers for brands which aren’t currently available in Poland.”

She highlights the fact that developments in retail are accompanied by an evolving bar culture. “On-trade sales are dominated by restaurants and standard bars, with only about 20% accounted for by specialist cocktail bars. However, these are very important venues for consumers to discover new brands, particularly as these bars have very well trained staff with good product knowledge, which they pass on to customers.”





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