Setting the scene…the growth of flavoured Vodkas
Commercially flavoured vodkas, which hit the market some 30 years ago, are now available in a stunning array of flavours. A neutral spirit, vodka is the ideal vehicle for flavours of all kinds and recently whilst standard vodka has wobbled, this has been offset by a strong flavour market over the past 2.5 years. Indeed flavours are the story in vodka. IRI data reveals flavours are growing faster than regular vodka, generating 21% of total growth in the category, with the likes of Smirnoff and Absolut flavour varieties kicking these numbers up.
Smirnoff is the largest ‘flavoured’ brand with 30 different Smirnoff flavours now accounting for over 25% of total industry flavoured vodka sales (source: IRI) – and they’re growing double digit net sales. Approximately half of Smirnoff’s growth there is coming from their new flavoured brands.
With the flavoured vodka trend, which has seen over 200 new products enter the market in the last 2.5 years including Gannibal’s UK release of its rum infused vodka in March 2017, the US relaunch of freeze distilled Frïs Citrus Freeze and Frïs Orange Freeze in June 2017, and Stoli’s roll out of its Hot & Sticki ranges, it’s clear that bartenders and consumers are demanding bigger and bolder flavours in their spirits that will show a sustained demand for flavoured vodkas in the coming years.
What varieties/flavours have been popular?
The confectionary phase has had numerous success stories, led by Smirnoff with their fluffed marshmallow, Iced Cake and Whipped Cream variants proving popular – not to mention UV’s Candy Bar and Chocolate Cake vodkas, Stolichnaya Stoli Salted Karamel and ODDKA’s Strawberry Milkshake all doing well. Whilst these sweet variations provide nostaligia experiences and proved initially popular sales data is showing that novelty flavours plateau quickly and will have a limited shelf life.
These variations have also faced some criticism concerning their questionable ethics, flavoured spirits in general appeal to younger drinkers and a clear liquid at 40% that tastes like cupcake is not responsible marketing.
This category has shown better staying power and despite being more open to seasonality, ie summer fruit flavours typically performing better in summer, is showing sustained year on year growth. A strength of this segment is that fruit vodkas are suited to the simple cocktail market, the bartender can pick the desired flavoured vodka off the rail, just add soda and the drink is ready to serve. Drinks like blueberry vodka and soda are incredibly popular point of entry cocktails.
Of the numerous fruit variations available grapefruit, mango and berry flavours in particular have shown sustained growth across several brands. Additionally the importance of genuine, natural flavours is increasing as shown by Diageo with the launch of ‘Smirnoff Sourced’ – a flavoured vodka range that is infused with real fruit juice, labelled gluten free and devoid of high fructose corn syrup.
Fire & Smoke:
As cited by several influencers in the beverage industries as the popular flavour trends of 2017/18, the vodka industry introduced ‘fire’ through the use of chili peppers over 20 years ago as the first flavoured vodka in the world. At the time Bloody Mary bars were booming and since vodka and pepper are the main ingredients, combining them seemed logical. Their popularity has seen a resurgence of late and there are now multiple heat or ‘fire’ variations using either chilli or cinnamon to provide the heat.
The ‘smoke’ element is somewhat more recent with innovators such as Chase leading the way using water from their smokehouse borehole until it picks up a delicate smoky flavour, then blending it with their award winning vodka to achieve a sweet, smoky finish. Even more unusual, and perhaps more novelty, is Ivanabitch’s creation of tobacco and menthol tobacco vodka!
The future market
So, to sum up, volume and value still favours vodka, but even the neutral king has had to depend on its myriad flavours. If there is one overall trend to take note of right now, it is that after years of homogenised tastes, big flavours are on the agenda.
With these big flavours it’s also important to remember that they require a pure and clean neutral spirit base to have maximum impact. SPL’s Turbo Yeast range includes Vodka Turbo Yeast, specifically designed for this application; producing an optimally clean congener profile for vodka spirit.
Looking forward it’s clear that whilst flavours are set to grow, people are starting to be more of a purist in spirits as James Chase, marketing director for Chase Distillery, explains “Bartenders and consumers are waking up and looking past the marketing of a brand, so celebrity or position is less relevant and more time is being taken looking at flavour profile and taste”.
Low strength artificially flavoured vodkas, which had previously seen dynamic growth, particularly in Poland and the Philippines, have fallen away recently as fashions and trends move on. The fallout is that producers are reining in flavour proliferation, concentrating attention on adding only core established flavours to their portfolio.
SPL has invested a significant amount of our product development time creating new products to cater to this growing market, and we would be delighted to discuss further the new and innovative flavour and vodka fermentation products that we can now offer. If you would like to discuss any of the trends mentioned or the products we can provide to allow you to capitalise on these, please don’t hesitate to contact us