Vodka Overview

30 August, 2013
Ian Wisniewski

There are also plenty of other emerging markets to consider.

“South Africa is the biggest vodka market in Africa and we are seeing good growth there. In the rest of Africa there is a lot of local spirit consumption so there’s a good opportunity to trade people up from local spirits, and a lot of this will be done through driving mixability,” says Pilkington.

Mixability is also being driven by flavoured vodka, as numerous bartenders are spending far more time experimenting with flavoured styles. The category includes a growing choice of flavours, as well as more brands offering their own versions of a particular flavour. 

The choice for brand owners is whether to launch a familiar flavour, or something more innovative. A familiar flavour has the advantage of greater acceptability among consumers and potentially higher sales volume, though this also means entering a far more crowded and competitive arena. Alternatively, launching an innovative flavour may require more explaining and offer lower potential sales, but this can also provide an effective talking point and a clear point of difference.

Moreover, a ‘unique’ example of a particular flavour is unlikely to retain this status for long. But does that matter? As soon as there’s more than one example of a particular flavour it’s the beginning of a discussion, and this naturally raises the question: Which do you prefer and why? 

“Competition can be good, as this starts to establish a particular flavour, and moves it on from a fad to a trend to a mainstay,” says Carmen d’Ascendis.

The flavoured sector also has an additional significance as, for some consumers, flavoured vodka is their entry point into the category, and the broader the choice of flavours then potentially the greater the recruitment effect. 

Another consideration is that consumers are more likely to sip a flavoured vodka neat, compared to an ‘unflavoured’ vodka. 

As the vast majority of vodka is consumed mixed, this is a great opportunity for a brand to showcase its character and quality. While sipping neat vodka is at an early stage (in western markets), and still only accounts for a tiny fraction of overall consumption, it is a growing trend. Sipping neat vodka is also a way for consumers to differentiate themselves from the rest of the cocktail crowd.

“Drinking vodka on the rocks is increasingly considered cool and sophisticated, and a lot of consumers are surprised they enjoy it. There’s a sense of discovery with sip and savour, and bartenders are pushing it,” says Claire Smith, head of spirit creation & mixology, Belvedere. 

Meanwhile, vodka is still synonymous with cocktails. As the most versatile spirit, vodka has the widest repertoire of cocktails and continues to inspire a significant number of new cocktails. Consequently, vodka has benefitted more than any other spirit from the current cocktail revival in the UK and US. 

Cocktails have been going in and out of fashion every decade. However, the latest cocktail revival looks as though it’s going to be the last, in the sense that cocktails are now here to stay, established as an essential element of contemporary lifestyle. 

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