The flavour parade marches on, but the vodka category is also showcasing cleaner, simpler and pricier offerings.
Pravda, an upscale Toronto bar with more than 80 vodkas, educates customers on the options. It offers Old World grain- and potato-based vodka as well as New World vodkas based on corn, rice and sugar cane, explains Ian Brako, Pravda bartender. And, for many customers, that’s all they need as the popularity of cocktails wanes at Pravda. “People will order a Russian Standard on the rocks or straight up in a shot glass,” notes Brako.
“Vodka is king,” says Kim Spence, beverage director of the Vancouver-based Northland Properties’ Shark Club Bar & Grill and Moxie’s Grill & Bar, affirming that tastes are shifting away from sweet and complicated cocktails. “Our number-1 martini is a vodka martini, followed closely by gin. This is very different from 10 years ago, with all the crazy flavours,” he adds.
So, what brands are making top sales? According to The Spirits Business magazine of London, U.K., in association with Canadean, a global consumer products research group, Smirnoff is number 1 by a long shot, with 26.1-million cases sold globally in 2013. Next is Absolut at 11.4-million cases. Third is the biggest brand you’ve never heard of: Pyat Ozer, a Siberian vodka that sold 6.4-million cases. Grey Goose is in 11th place with 3.9-million cases, followed by Skyy, Finlandia, Stolichnaya and Russian Standard.
And, although complicated vodka cocktails may be losing favour, flavoured options account for 28 per cent of vodka volume in the U.S., up from 23 per cent in 2010, according to Donna Hood Crecca of Technomic, a Chicago-based research firm. “It’s been a source of momentum, with double-digit growth in 2011 and 2012, but that slowed dramatically in 2013,” says Hood Crecca.
Meanwhile, according to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), sales of flavoured vodka are up 37 per cent since 2010, comprising 8.3 per cent of the market. Another LCBO trend shows deluxe and super-premium vodka ($27.50 or higher for 750 ml) has soared 47.9 per cent since 2010 and now accounts for 10.5 per cent of sales. The biggest loser is standard (cheap) vodka, which is down 9.7 per cent since 2010.
“Brands seeing growth are Sobeiski Vodka, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Ciroc Spirit Drink,” says Heather MacGregor, media relations coordinator at the LCBO. Spence notes Ciroc is a popular vodka at the Shark Club, even if the label calls it a “spirit drink.” It’s called vodka everywhere else, but because it’s made from grapes, it’s characterized as a brandy in Canada. Either way, customers know Ciroc is vodka, and it’s on fire at retail and on-premise.