Vodka under pressure in GTR

This, of course, has the potential to affect drinks brands in all categories in travel retail, but given its prominence in this channel, and its reliance on it too, vodka arguably has more at stake than most other categories.

It will remain to be seen whether vodka brands in travel retail can continue to innovate – both in terms of products and activations – to maintain its position, fending off pressures both from within the industry and without, while keeping on its toes to address changing consumer demands.

Whether it does or not, it seems that the days of the category’s unquestioned dominance in travel retail are behind it.


There’s no doubt that global travel retail has become more challenging for vodka brands, not least as a result of the constant stream of new entrants across spirit categories, as well as changing consumer demands. The vodka brands that have traditionally prioritised this channel are rising to the challenge though, not only with increasingly creative activations, but with exclusive launches too.

Pernod Ricard didn’t hold back with the launch of Absolut World in April this year, its first travel retail exclusive in three years. At its core was a bottle design by Swedish illustrator Kari Modén, focusing on themes of global unity, “love, peace and togetherness”.

In addition to this limited-edition collectible bottle design, the company created an ambitious experiential platform around it. According to Lisa McCann, brand director for Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail, the intention was “to bring travellers from across the world together, asking people to share the places they love in their home city via an online platform built specifically for the campaign”.

As consumers contributed selfies of local hotspots, they helped to create a global selfie spanning 36 countries, providing other travellers with insider tips. The campaign was backed by activations in airports, including merchandising and outdoor media.

Meanwhile, this past summer, Grey Goose accompanied its French Riviera-themed travel retail campaign, launched in both Mumbai Duty Free and Lagardère Travel Retail within Paris Duty Free at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport, with a limited-edition bottled designed by illustrator Quentin Monge. The brand also has plans to launch a Christmas gifting tin this year exclusively within travel retail.

Russian Standard recently made its intentions for global travel retail clear too, with the exclusive launch of its reformulated and repackaged Russian Standard Platinum into the channel. With no shortage of premium cues, such as metallic silkscreening on the bottle, there’s little doubt about its positioning, and about the brand’s understanding of the importance of premium products in this global shopfront.

For head of customer marketing at parent company Roust, Irina Chirilescu, the intention is to appeal “to aspirational millennials looking for more authentic premium brands with a great taste”.

For good measure, the brand also introduced the sixth expression of its Russian Standard Limited Edition series exclusively into travel retail.

Winter Palace Limited Edition is distilled with “exotic extracts” and is presented in a limited-edition sleeve.


Travel retail is a crucial channel for many established vodka brands, but it’s a priority for a very recent entrant to the flavoured vodka market too – Echo Falls Vodka Summer Berries. Not long after Accolade Wines introduced the Echo Falls wine brand’s first foray into vodka, starting with the UK market near the end of 2017, it began eyeing up travel retail.

“We are very active in travel retail with our wine portfolio and we also know the value of the channel to spirits. So when we launched Echo Falls Vodka Summer Berries in the UK domestic market we knew that it would also be an attractive line for the same consumers when they travel,” says Rupert Firbank, Accolade Wines commercial director, global travel retail. “By having this listed in travel retail as people are heading off on holiday it has enabled us to raise awareness of the product and to get thousands of passengers to trial it.”

Initial activity this summer included pop-up shops on P&O Ferries, with sampling, serving suggestions and branded merchandise such as stirrers, ice trays and flutes. The activity was then rolled out to Eurotunnel and DFDS.

While many others are focusing on more premium offerings in this channel, for Echo Falls it’s about offering accessible price points to consumers.

“We know that there is room for a strong brand to bring accessibly priced flavoured vodka to the category,” says Firbank. Consumers of Echo Falls’ Fruit Fusions wine products, he says, “are younger than the average BWS consumer, with a similar profile to the flavoured vodka drinker”, adding that they “feel they are priced out of the flavoured vodka market”.