A scotch whisky distiller, when asked recently if he made any blends, was gloriously sniffy and dismissive of blended whisky. It would have been interesting to see and hear what he would have made of the Johnnie Walker Directors Blends, which I got to taste last Thursday (November 28) in London.
VODKA COMES IN ALL FORMS, as we know. Pure and international. Local and characteristic. And then there are flavours – aren’t things getting a bit silly when we start getting wedding cake, cotton candy, cookie dough and chocolate? Has there been a mass defection of creatives from Häagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s to vodka companies?
Absolut has been at the forefront of flavours. The Pernod Ricard-owned Swedish vodka has just unveiled its latest flavour, Cherrykran, a combination of cherry, white cranberries and plum. Jonas Tåhlin, Absolut’s VP global marketing, says: “We believe the interest in flavoured vodkas is a strong trend that is here to stay.”
Nick Gillett, head of Mangrove, which handles Beluga vodka, rejoins: “We are seeing a lot of different and quirky vodka flavours. I don’t think the trend will necessarily run out of steam but it does seem that some of these are rushed to market. Unstable, unbalanced, poor liquids will ultimately damage the parent brand. Some craft distillers are getting carried away with the concept rather than focusing on quality.”
Being the most contemporary of spirits, the most universal and versatile base for long drinks and cocktails, vodka leads the drinks industry’s onslaught on the masses via the social media. It is now not just the name, bottle and label, it is the website as well. One can foresee a vodka version of The Hunger Games (book and film) in which bartenders and consumers fight to the death for their vodka brand. A racier version could be Fifty Shades of Vodka…
Tåhlin says: “Our consumer patterns have changed and people are spending more time at Youtube and Facebook than in front of the TV. Marketing today is about creating a context and not only displaying a message.
“If the message is interesting enough, consumers make it theirs by spreading it through their own channels: word of mouth, mail, Facebook, Twitter or blogs,” he says.
“We hope to create these interesting contexts through collaborations. We are engaging with artists working across different media with the support to bring people together through art and music. For example, our collaboration with Swedish House Mafia (music) and Documenta (art),” says Tåhlin.
SPI Group’s Stolichnaya has just launched a global advertising campaign, The Most Original Moments Deserve The Most Original Vodka.
SPI CEO Val Mendeleev joins in: “Stoli continues to push the boundaries of how it connects and engages with its audience. We look forward to seeing this campaign evolve throughout the year across a variety of media around the world as Stoli engages with its fans particularly through an up-weighted presence on the digital sphere.”
We are talking about getting people to drink vodka here?
But on to the numbers. Vodka grew by 1% volume in 2011, according to Euromonitor International (DI Vodka supplement, March, 2012). For 2010, it was 0.5%. Vodka’s ‘problem’ is eastern Europe, and specifically Russia. If you take out Russia, which accounts for approximately 40% of the vodka market, volumes grew by 3%. Recession-hit western Europe only grew by 1% but Africa and the Middle East were up 2% and Latin America a healthy 8%.