April 06, 2009
About a month ago I wrote a story for The Drinks Business, a UK beverage industry magazine, about vodka sales in the US. Some conclusions of that story were:
- Vodka sales are still up according to numbers released in January, but not up as much as in previous years that have seen big annual increases.
- Sales of the Super Premium (the most expensive) vodkas fell a bit in 2008, but sales of Premium brands like Smirnoff and Svedka increased. It appears people are trading down or discovering new vodkas in the premium category they like. (The categories are Value, Premium, High-end Premium, and Super Premium.)
- On-trade sales fell and off-trade increased, showing that people are drinking less at bars and more at home.
In the process of writing the story I spoke with Jacob Briars of 42Below vodka. His quotes were great and I didn't get a chance to use them all in my story, so I thought I'd add them here.
The Caipiroska is becoming huge for us, around NZ, Australia and now in the US, building on moves towards 'fresher' cocktail trends and use of better ingredients in cocktails, as consumers look for alternative sweeteners and products like Sour Mix start to fall out of favour with drinkers. At last...
In an age of economic uncertainty 'communal drinking' is becoming more popular - drinks served in multiple serves such as teapots, punch bowls, or even 'bottles for two' - prebatched cocktails that can be sent out to a table as a cheaper, more interesting alternative to the purchase of a
straight bottle of spirits. Likewise we field lots of requests globally for proper punches using 42BELOW, this trend is growing in bars and across homes.
Finally we are starting to see a bit of a retro movement where cocktails go back to a simpler, gentler time. For gin this means the Martini and the Southside - back to the 20s. For vodka, this means back to the 50s and early 60s, so we are starting to see the return of comfort vodka cocktails- the Bloody Mary as an entertaining ritual, the Black and White Russians
(made properly) the Moscow Mule and even the beatnik special, vodka on the rocks. Could we even see the return of the Harvey Wallbanger now that Galliano is re-releasing the 'original' formula?
Finally drinks served with a bit of humour lighten a dark mood - all over the world late last year I encountered 42BELOW cocktails served in brown paper bags, in jars, in (clean) paint cans etc. Also our biggest cocktail success anywhere in a single bar in January was the 'Ale of Two Cities' at
Callooh Callay in Shoreditch, London - 42BELOW Feijoa with apple juice, lime and Punt e Mes shake very very hard and served in foaming beer tankards with chips (fries) on the side. It has been a smash hit, guests love a cocktail, and a bar, that can have a laugh with them.
Kind of amazing the vodka market continues to grow, despite the relative lack of differentiation between brands. I like a white russian or a dirty martini as much as anybody, but vodka represents approximately 2% of my liquor cabinet, and there's really only one bottle that I use regularly.
I was talking to a brand rep last week who said that off-premises sales made up 75% of the volume in his accounts. Is that typical? (This is Pennsylvania, so there are no wholesale discounts that might confuse the numbers.) I find it hard to believe that people drink three times more liquor at home than at bars.
Posted by: Nathan | April 06, 2009 at 03:15 PM
Nathan- The on/off premise sales completely depend on the brand. The well vodkas certainly are all about on-premise. The high-end ones were initially bottle service on-premise but have made their way into liquor cabinets. In San Francisco, I see tons of Svedka ads but don't see it in bars, so I would guess that's an off-premise brand. It seems brands in the premium category are ones people are buying for home use more than others.
Posted by: Camper English | April 06, 2009 at 04:04 PM