Looking after the white stuff

Glen’s has a new owner. Russian Standard is growing fast. And vodka launches this year have included New Amsterdam vodka from E&J Gallo and Blackwoods Botanical vodka from Blavod Drinks.

PREMIUM gins may be popping up all over the place and the poshest malt whiskies may be commanding previously unthinkable prices, but mainstream spirits sales in the Scottish off-trade remain dominated by vodka.

To put it a little more precisely mainstream off-trade spirits in Scotland are dominated by two massive brands of vodka with a third contender showing remarkable growth. Thereafter there are a number of very much smaller brands but there’s interesting new launch activity too.
But let’s start with the big two. In the Nielsen figures, published earlier this year in Scottish Grocer, Smirnoff was the most valuable off-trade alcohol brand in Scotland, clocking up sales in the 12 months to early January of just over £68m. Glen’s vodka was the second-most valuable off-trade alcohol brand in the country with sales worth just over £65m.

• Glen’s was number one for a while and it famously achieved its strong position with a policy of providing an acceptable and credible branded vodka at very, very competitive prices. There wasn’t very much more to say. Although back in 2009 it did come first in a blind tasting of vodkas by drinks experts organised by the Daily Telegraph.
But there have been interesting developments of late. It was bought, along with related interests like the Loch Lomond Distillery and a series of whisky brands, by the newly formed Loch Lomond Group.
The people involved include experienced executives from the tobacco industry and one thing that means is that the brands and products in the portfolio are likely to be subject to significant marketing analysis and activity.
Loch Lomond Group business development director Bruce Davidson explained that some early classic marketing work had now been done on Glen’s. The new company has spoken to wholesalers and retailers and has conducted some consumer focus groups.
“It’s a very well-regarded brand,” he said.
“It’s strong in Scotland but has pockets of strength in many English cities too.
“It has quite a wide age range, from middle-aged people to students who like it as a drink before going out. And it is very strong in convenience stores.”
Any work on the brand will be carefully introduced but the company does see opportunities in, among other things, fractional sizes.

• Market leader Smirnoff is said by owner Diageo to be performing very well in Scotland in on and off-trades. Recent figures showed it as worth £148m in total, up 9.4% on the previous year, and taking almost two-thirds of the value of the total vodka category in Scotland.
Just over a year ago Diageo launched a pre-filled 20cl unit containing price-marked bottles of Smirnoff. Each 20cl bottle contains eight serves, which, says Diageo, provides great value for shoppers who are looking to buy “something for tonight”.

• Russian Standard, available through Whyte & Mackay, is well behind the big two but has nevertheless achieved remarkable growth, up 47% to be worth £9.4m in Scottish off-trade in 2013.

• Launch activity this year has included the launch by E&J Gallo in the UK of New Amsterdam vodka.
The company says it’s an award-winning vodka that has been taking the US by storm – making history by becoming the fastest spirits brand to reach 1m cases sold.
New Amsterdam vodka is being launched exclusively in UK impulse outlets at an RRP of £15.99.

• Blackwoods, known for its gin, released Blackwoods Botanical Vodka early this year Brand owner Blavod Drinks said it goes through a process involving infusing the vodka with the same Shetland botanicals used in Blackwoods gin.
Available from February in the UK and for export, Blavod set the UK RRP of the blue-labelled 40% ABV premium vodka at £24.50 a bottle.