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As Growth Slows, Imported Vodka Marketers Fight Off Rival Categories With Innovation Flurry

April 10, 2014

As America’s whisk(e)y boom continues and domestic offerings such as New Amsterdam and Tito’s dominate growth in the vodka category, imported vodka’s meteoric rise has slowed considerably. The import segment rose by just 2% (to 26.9 million cases) in 2013, compared to a 6.5% bump in 2012 and consistent double-digit gains in the preceding years, according to IMPACT DATABANK. Category stalwarts like Absolut, Svedka, Grey Goose, Ketel One and Stolichnaya are either in decline or achieving much slower growth than in years past, and those trends show no sign of changing anytime soon.

But it wasn’t all bad news for the top imported vodkas, as a handful of brands showed strong progress. The two fastest growing entries from the past year, Beam Inc.’s Pinnacle and Serge Imports’ Exclusiv, are both thriving in the intensely competitive segment of accessibly-priced vodka. Each advanced by more than 250,000 cases in 2013. However, even these impressive performances were largely eclipsed by the explosive growth enjoyed by an array of domestic brands. While Pinnacle and Exclusiv were imported vodka’s only two 2013 Hot Brands, four domestic brands were awarded the honor—New Amsterdam (+80% in 2013), Tito’s (+50%), Platinum 7X (+14.5%) and Burnett’s (+15.2%).

Even outside vodka, renewed interest in brown spirits, as seen in whisk(e)y’s recent renaissance, may be pulling consumers’ attention away from imported vodka, as the burgeoning flavored whisk(e)y segment is finding remarkable success and attracting new consumers. The top imported vodka brands, however, aren’t sitting back and ceding shelf space. Instead, they’re continuing to innovate with new flavors, hybrid products and aggressive marketing strategies. “We can’t afford to stand pat,” says Diana Pawlik, vice president, spirits and global imports at Constellation, whose Svedka—now the market’s second biggest vodka import, behind Absolut—rose by 3.3% last year. “The category remains intensely competitive, and innovation is key to success.”

For the full report, see Impact’s April 1&15 edition.

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