or a spouse drinking it, but we recognize
that whatever someone buys, they are also
a potential vodka buyer,” says Short.
Pennsylvania sells “a ton of vodka,”
with figures even greater than the national
average. Unflavored vodka accounts for
26% of spirits (35% with flavors included)
and a full 12% of total wine and spirits
sales. Even so, the challenge for any vodka
brand, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, is
harnessing space on a shelf that already
covers every price and every imaginable
proposition, from organic to glacial to
celeb-studded.
“Choosing brands is a tough decision,”
says Short. “We’re presented with another
20 to 40 different vodkas all looking for a
pricing gap, but there are no gaps.”
Vodka is everyone’s drink, but not every-
one drinks the same vodka. At the entry
level, vodka drinkers themselves appear
aware that their spirit of choice presents
a wealth of options and narrow breadth
of flavor, suggesting that these vodkas are
prone to commoditization. “At the low
end, you see little loyalty. That consumer
is shopping price,” confirms Short.
At American Way Wine & Spirits in
Lakewood, NJ, store manager Andrew
Howard, has succeeded with new
value brands, finding these drink-
ers willing to make a switch. “A lot of
our value vodka drinkers were won over
when Wave came along. We were able to
offer it on sale for $15.99 and sell a lot
of it,” says Howard.
In many cases, these newcomer value
brands, including Wave and Pinnacle,
appealed to a younger demographic and
drove trial with proprietary flavors. Lured
in by Pinnacle’s Whipped or Wave’s
Chocolate Covered Pretzel, consumers ac-
cepted the brands and soon adopted their
unflavored offering as well. It’s a reverse
engineering of the flavor extensions that
has earned fast growth for these young up-
starts. Given that about four of every five
bottles of vodka sold in America today is
unflavored, the ability of a flagship neutral
vodka to attract new fans can be crucial
to the overall health of a vodka brand, no
matter how many flavors are in the line.
Just as entry-level consumers are prone
to shop across brands, they similarly show
little allegiance to retailers. “They are go-
ing to shop us on price. If someone has it a
dollar cheaper, we will do our best to price
match. This drinker is very price-sensitive,”
says Howard. To help counteract the di-
minishing margin, Howard uses the
appeal of vodka value to move cus-
tomers through the store. “I have vodka
everywhere, in the front of the store and
in the back,” he says, noting
that Svedka is also a hot brand
among value hunters.
Few brands in any spirits category have
enjoyed the enduring brand loyalty of
Absolut Vodka, even with its over-$20
price tag and countless extensions over
the years. Also in this elevated pricing tier,
Cîroc, Ketel One and Grey Goose drinkers
have developed firm brand allegiance
by most accounts.
In young and fashionable Miami,
family-owned Global Liquors is doing brisk
business in these luxury brands. Francisco
De Abreu, who owns and operates Global
Liquors with his brother and sister, says
the brands that are selling well are a
direct result of high profile on-premise
placements and celebrity allure. “What
customers are most interested in is what
is sold in the nightclubs,” says De Abreu.
“Go party in South Beach and see what
people have on their table, and that’s what
people will want to have at home. Grey
Goose does a great job in putting bottles in
the nightclub and that’s why it’s the vodka
that sells the most in our store.”
Left: Pinnacle is representative of the reality that
no matter how many flavors a vodka brand has,
its neutral bottling is critical to ongoing market
success; Right: Stanton Social Strawberry Fields,
with Grey Goose.
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