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Splash of white

In a market conventionally known to favour brown spirits, vodka is appealing to India’s younger consumers, growing faster than the alcohol category. Himani Chandna Gurtoo reports.

business Updated: May 14, 2012 01:37 IST
Himani Chandna Gurtoo
Himani Chandna Gurtoo
Hindustan Times

In the last 14 months, half a dozen new vodka brands have hit the shelves in India, a market that has conventionally favoured brown drinks such as whiskey and rum. Is it possible that what vodka brand Smirnoff started as an effort over a decade ago – to woo young Indian consumers to drink more of white spirits, especially vodka – is beginning to bear fruit?

Vodka is growing faster than the overall alcohol market. International Wine & Spirit Research (IWSR) numbers show that vodka sales have grown from 3,50,000 cases in 2000 to 73 lakh cases (nine litres each) currently. The vodka market grew by 22.2% in 2010, while the overall alcohol market grew by 16.1%. Vodka is finding favour as an anytime, anywhere drink. “Vodka is a starting drink of choice for the youth – riding on gender flexibility and suitability as an anytime drink. While whiskeys mostly get consumed at night, vodka doubles up as a lunchtime drink for me,” said Debjyoti Sircar, 30, a fund manager with a reputed bank.

Its versatility is making vodka a more inclusive drink. “It can be tailored to suit any taste. Consumers use it as a blank canvas to express their own individual tastes,” said Aishwarya Nair, head corporate food and beverages, The Leela Palace.

Companies are also adding value. United Spirits has launched its new premium bra, Vladivar vodka, in dual flavours, orange- pepper and lemon- mint, an idea it has also extended to its White Mischief brand.

United Breweries launched Pinky Vodka especially on Valentine’s Day. “Such activities ensure that brands find relevance with the youth and occupy a unique emotional space in the consumers’ mind,” said a company spokesperson.

“Refined flavors, striking designs, exceptional packaging, along with a fashionable marketing, are all the things that make vodka the cool stuff for urban youth,” says Amrit Shivrajan, 28, a software engineer.

Global players including Diageo, Moet & Chandon, Bacardi and Belvedere have brought their vodka portfolio of internationally favoured brands.

“As the economy continues to grow and give more consumers the opportunity to live different experiences, consumer tastes will continue to diversify,” said Abanti Sankaranarayanan, deputy managing director, Diageo India, which offers several premium vodka brands, including Smirnoff. “Our vodka brands have been very successful in India and we aim to cover varied price points. Smirnoff accounts for over 80% value share of the premium vodka category. Our luxury brands, Ciroc and Ketel One have a 25% value share of the super premium segment and cater to discerning consumers looking for luxury experiences,” Sankaranarayanan added.

“Grey Goose, our luxury brand, is growing in double digits year on year. Consistent new offering and improvements in the existing flavours is keeping the category fresh,” said Manish Seth, director, sales and marketing, Bacardi India, which recently launched lemon and orange flavours in its premium offerings. Considering the restrictions on alcohol marketing, brands are riding on lifestyle platforms. “Many global lifestyle brands including LVMH and F TV have come in recently. Vodka brands have associated with them,” said Ankur Bisen, associate vice president, Technopak.

With its blend of versatility and lifestyle, vodka is expected by the industry to continue to grow as a favoured drink with younger consumers in India.

First Published: May 13, 2012 21:09 IST