Vodka in the US: Architect of Change

Maxime Kouchnir, vice president, vodkas, Pernod Ricard USA says: “Last year we started increasing our price on Absolut because we feel the time is right from a consumer’s perspective as they are displaying an increased willingness to pay more for strong brands. 

“We are building Absolut for the long term and we believe premiumisation is the way to go as long as you have a strong equity and keep building it for consumers and trade. Unfortunately, this is not the view of some players in the market but, despite this, we are experiencing good momentum in both on and off-premise.” 

The brand has strong links to bartenders and you can read more about its on-premise activity once we’ve got the numbers out of the way. 

The next biggest domestic brand is Campari America’s Skyy, which is dwarfed by Smirnoff’s presence at just 2.8m cases – though it has seen consecutive growth for at least the past five years (Liquor Handbook). 

Diageo’s Cîroc and Tito’s Handmade Vodka are winners in the rapid growth stakes, up 45.3% and 46% respectively during 2012. And Diageo is looking to build on this growth with the launch of Cîroc Amaretto, which rolled out in August. The cherry-almond flavour infused vodka also includes a touch of vanilla and the company claims it is the first amaretto flavour infused vodka. Of course, rap star Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs was involved with the development, claiming: “Anyone who knows me knows that I love to innovate, whether it’s to do something no one else has done before, or take something everyone knows and completely reinvent it. “I am excited to introduce the world to our newest creation.”

The question is, what’s next? Well the chameleon has already adapted to its new environment and it’s looking a bit slimmer – and a lot more like a wine drinker. That’s right, according to the Liquor Handbook, one of the next big trends is low-calorie vodka. Beam is poised with its Skinnygirl brand and earlier this year it launched a White Cherry vodka. Meanwhile, Diageo’s Smirnoff launched three sorbet-inspired tipples. 

“Smirnoff Sorbet Light is the next flavour experience for those women who strive to lead a balanced lifestyle, but never at the expense of delicious cocktails,” according to brand manager Sandhya Padmanabhan. This new line is 78 calories per 1.5oz – compared to 96 calories for 1.5oz of regular 80 proof vodka. It’s worth noting, though, that the Smirnoff Sorbet Light vodkas are only 60 proof.

Pop star Fergie has also launched a lower-calorie vodka called Voli, which enjoyed triple-digit growth to 53,000 cases during its second year on the market (Liquor Handbook). Meanwhile, Brown-Forman’s Little Black Dress vodka sold 35,000 cases during its first year.  

Category drivers

Let’s take a closer look at what other brands are doing to drive the category forward. For Beam and its Pinnacle brand, “nostalgic flavour options” are all the rage.  “Our latest innovations include Pinnacle Rainbow Sherbet, Pinnacle Strawberry Shortcake, Pinnacle Pecan Pie and Pinnacle Caramel Apple,” says Jason Dolenga, senior brand director for vodka at Beam. 

“We expect the vodka market will continue to grow in 2014 with flavoured vodkas as the driving  force behind this growth.  Pinnacle Vodka will continue to change what consumers expect from vodka through the delivery of innovative flavors and plans to introduce several additions to the portfolio in 2014.”