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Sobieski Embarks On Premiumization Push, Targets 2 Million Cases

June 23, 2014

In 2011, Sobieski vodka became the fastest vodka brand to ever reach shipments of 1 million cases in the U.S. Since then, however, pricing within the vodka category has grown ever more competitive, and the Polish import’s progress has stalled. After slowing to 3.2% volume growth in 2012, Sobieski eked out a 0.5% gain last year, to just under a million cases. Chester Brandes, president of Sobieski’s U.S. importer Imperial Brands, tells SND that the brand is now positioned to resume its climb and is also aiming to premiumize. Even as it looks to raise prices significantly—by as much as 35%—Imperial Brands has set a goal of doubling Sobieski’s U.S. volume to 2 million cases within the next four years.

“The idea is to raise our prices over several years, and we think the brand is strong enough with proper above-the-line investment to reinforce image and increase awareness,” says Brandes, noting that Imperial Brands intends to hike Sobieski’s current $11 a 750-ml. suggested retail price to around $14.95. “This brand can break out from the competitive subset it’s in now, and we need to do that.” Key competitors within the crowded $10-$15 vodka category include Constellation’s Svedka, Beam’s Pinnacle and Brown-Forman’s Finlandia, among others.

To support the start of the price shift, Sobieski recently launched the latest iteration of its “Truth In Vodka” campaign. The multi-million-dollar push, which features out-of-home, digital and print components, is slated to run across key U.S. markets through the end of the year.

Sobieski’s latest strategy does not include an expansion of its 11-entry flavor portfolio, which currently accounts for roughly 10% of the brand’s volume. Though the brand introduced flavors such as Toasted Coconut and Lemon Meringue in recent years, Sobieski will now focus on its more traditional flavors, including Cytron, Orange and Raspberry, explains Brandes.

“Sobieski was built on the unflavored business,” he says. “Flavors are, to an extent, a defensive tactic to increase shelf space. But there will always be three or four that weather the trends. It’s very difficult to ask distributors to promote 10 or 12 flavors, so our tactic is to concentrate on the ones that sell consistently, and work those on- and off-premise.”

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