The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

The evolution of the vodka category

In spite of its dominance in some markets, vodka has been outshone by other spirits categories in recent years but according to global liquor analysts, IWSR, this is starting to change.

As new product launches tap into contemporary trends, such as sustainability, provenance, convenience and wellbeing, there is also a growing crossover between vodka and other drinks categories.

Move to premium

As with the spirits category in general, vodka is tending towards more premium launches generally. IWSR data shows that growth of the total global vodka category as a whole has been largely flat, and is expected to remain so over the next five years. However, the global premium-and-above segment has seen more positive growth, expanding in volume consumption by +6% in 2022, with expected growth of +3% volume CAGR 2022–27.

Flavour innovation

Flavoured expressions within the vodka category span a full spectrum from subtle to overt. More recently, new expressions have tended towards the more considered, with producers not only highlighting the flavours present in the raw materials used, but using additional ingredients in a measured way. In some cases, these take a leaf from gin’s book, distilling botanicals to extract flavours rather than macerating or adding flavourings.

IWSR says these spirits bridge the gap between the gin and vodka categories, appealing to consumers who are already familiar with botanical spirits, as well as those who are not interested in sweet or artificially flavoured vodkas. As these are distilled and therefore not generally sweet, they tend to be lower in calories, resonating with the health and wellness trend.

For example, Absolut is expanding its range of flavours with its launch of a trio of new additions that nod to contemporary drinks trends. The new Absolut Wild Berri contains no added sugar, while Absolut Tropical Fruit has a mid-level ABV of just 20%.

Category-blurring flavours

Among the latest flavours from Absolut is one intended to blur the lines between spirits categories, namely vodka and tequila.

The new Absolut Smoky Piña combines flavours of chili and smoky pineapple. To strengthen the association with tequila, the brand recommends serving the expression as a shot garnished with a pineapple wedge and chili salt. This launch taps into the trending agave spirits category, as well as the rising popularity of Mexican flavours in general.

Provenance and focus on ingredients

A growing trend in spirits for some time now, and in drinks in general, is a focus on provenance, as well as sustainability, says IWSR. Vodka brands have historically been more concerned with premium cues, purity credentials and overt flavours, but this has been changing in recent years, with a growing number highlighting their place of origin, as well as creating spirits from specific origins.

In the US, vodka brand Tito’s Handmade Vodka highlights its origins (‘Made in Austin, Texas’), its use of corn as a key ingredient, as well as its pot still distillation process. By positioning itself as both craft and handmade, it delivers heritage cues as well as transparency around its ingredients and distillation.

RTD and RTS development

The ready-to-drink and ready-to-serve categories have grown in recent years, thanks to a number of factors, including growing demand for convenience and greater acceptance of these formats.

Vodka is well placed to capitalise on these trends, as the hard seltzer boom of a few years ago is replaced by spirit-based RTDs, and as demand for pre-mixed classic cocktails grows. RTD cocktails / long drinks, for example, saw global volumes increase by +10%, 2021-2022, and are expected to grow at a volume CAGR of +6%, 2022-2027. In the US, vodka-based RTDs command the largest share and growth rate within the spirit-based RTD market.

RTDs moving into spirits

While established spirits brands tend to extend into the RTD category, a few RTD brands have done the opposite, venturing from RTDs to full-strength spirits – vodka in particular.

Among these is hard seltzer pioneer White Claw. The brand recently expanded into spirits with its new White Claw Premium Vodka made with American grain, accompanied by a range of flavoured vodkas. It also launched a range of White Claw Vodka + Soda cans.

Sustainable and socially responsible

In keeping with other spirits brands, sustainability and social responsibility is a priority for contemporary vodka brands, according to IWSR. Meili Vodka from actor Jason Momoa, for example, is made with grain sourced locally from the brand’s owned farms, located near to the brand’s water source and distillery, in order to reduce its carbon footprint, and packaged in what is said to be the first 100% recycled glass bottle on the market.

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