Sensory perception

A prime example in Warsaw is the stylish Dom Wodki (House of Vodka), which opened in 2015. Comprising the Elixir restaurant, Vodka Atelier (a bar/tasting area) and a cocktail bar, this multi-venue offers a choice of hundreds of brands served by knowledgeable staff.

As the on-trade evolves it is also, of course, becoming more competitive. As Gemza says: “Bar owners want to differentiate their bars in order to attract and retain customers, and one of the first things they now ask brands is whether they can provide staff training and access to a brand ambassador.”

While opportunities to brand-build in specialist retail stores and bars are growing, marketing opportunities are limited, with TV and billboard advertising, for example, prohibited.

“You can’t sponsor events but you can be an event partner, for film premiers for example, where you can run a bar serving vodka neat, on the rocks or in cocktails, and during events you can get direct feedback on your brand from consumers,” explains Gemza. “This is a very effective way of reaching your target audience, and a lot of event companies are now actively looking for brands to be event partners.”

Meanwhile, the Polish Vodka Association is actively promoting something very important – knowledge.

“We’ve organised a Polish vodka tour this year visiting larger cities across Poland, including Krakow, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Lublin and Warsaw, providing seminars for bartenders and retailers, as well as consumer tastings,” says Szumowski. He adds: “The first vodka festival was held in Warsaw this May, and next spring a Polish Vodka Museum is opening in Warsaw. This will be a very strong tool to distinguish Polish vodka from other countries.”


The association also plays a key role abroad, “working with the Polish government, advising and lobbying on the role of Polish vodka in export markets”, adds Szumowski.

A current focus is promoting Polish vodka with a Geographical Indication. Polish regulations ratified in 2013 state that Polish vodka with a GI can only be distilled from traditional ingredients, such as rye, wheat, barley or potatoes cultivated in Poland, with the production process conducted in Poland.

So, what impact is the GI having in export markets? “We’ve had very positive reactions, though we’re still in the initial stages,” says Szumowski. “We’re attending seminars and events on GI, and cooperate with Polish state agencies, supporting events organised across the world by the Agricultural Development Agency, Polish Tourist Agency, the Polish Foreign Ministry and the Polish Cultural Institute. The EU is also actively promoting EU spirits with a GI around the world.”

GI is all about provenance, which ties into a significant change of perspective, according to Belvedere vodka president Charles Gibb. “Country of origin had been irrelevant but has recently become fundamental to the question of what is your point of difference as a brand,” he says.

“There’s now real interest in the raw ingredient and where it is from. At Belvedere we know the seven farmers cultivating our rye, and the more premium your brand the more you have to tell the story of the farmer, the region, the process and the country of origin. Bartenders are interrogating brands more than ever.”