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Impact’s “Hot Prospect” Vodkas Show The Way Forward For Category

November 13, 2018

While vodka has been overshadowed by the robust growth of brown spirits lately, the category continues to grow, having expanded its U.S. depletions by nearly 7 million cases over the past five years, according to Impact Databank. Much of vodka’s recent growth has been driven by behemoths like Tito’s and New Amsterdam, but there’s also no shortage of emerging players rising to prominence, as evidenced by the eight vodkas on Impact’s “Hot Prospects” list.

Prairie Organic from Phillips Distilling earned Hot Prospect honors after more than doubling in size over the past three years to 173,000 cases. Offering a core expression and a single cucumber-flavored offshoot, Prairie Organic ($20) has benefited from both its craft positioning and the growing demand for organic products, and is looking to extend its bull run with a recent packaging refresh. Prairie’s rise has given Phillips new impetus in the vodka category and helped offset the decline of its larger lower-priced portfoliomate, UV.

William Grant & Sons’ Reyka, an Icelandic import, is also making impressive gains. The brand, which retails at around $24, is now about twice the size that it was in 2014, climbing past the 120,000-case mark.

Likewise, Texas distiller Western Son is on a strong upward trajectory with its namesake vodka brand. Western Son recently broke ground on a new expansion of its distillery, with an eye toward keeping pace with rising demand and upgrading its tourism facilities. Western Son co-founder and CEO John Strait told SND the distillery’s capacity will rise to 750,000 cases via the $3 million investment. Last year, Western Son vodka doubled to more than 100,000 cases, and it’s continuing to see robust growth this year, with nearly 60% of sales coming from its core unflavored expression.

Meanwhile, bigger brands like Absolut and Cîroc are garnering gains from newer flavored entries. Absolut Lime has enjoyed fast growth right out of the gate. The flavored vodka sold 128,000 cases in calendar 2017, its first year on the market, and is projected to reach 160,000 cases in calendar 2018.

Cîroc’s Summer Colada and French Vanilla extensions were also both named Hot Prospects, each surpassing 100,000 cases last year. Summer Colada—which features a blend of coconut, pineapple, and other natural flavors—was introduced as a limited edition early last year and has since joined the brand’s year-round stable, while French Vanilla joined the portfolio last fall. Similarly showcasing an array of flavors is LiDestri Spirits’ Recipe 21 vodka line, which comprises an unflavored entry, along with orange, grape, and cherry expressions.

Cîroc portfoliomate Smirnoff is also thriving on the flavored vodka front with its Smirnoff Red, White & Berry offering, which rolled out in 2016. Made with a blend of cherry, citrus, and blue raspberry flavors, the summer-inspired label is targeted toward the shot, cocktail, and frozen treat occasions, and neared 70,000 cases in its first full year on the market.

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