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The top 10 best-selling vodka brands

In spite of ongoing social, economic and political obstacles, evolving consumer attitudes and progressive drinking trends, the vodka category is finally taking small steps to stability. But which are the world’s biggest-selling brands?

The vodka category is finally taking small steps to stability

The past few years have taken their toll on the vodka category, with global volume sales down by 2% in 2016, despite the majority of other spirits categories witnessed growth.

As to be expected, the performance of the world’s top two best­-selling vodka brands – Absolut and Smirnoff – stagnated last year, but plenty of other vodka brands celebrated better results.

In our top 10 leaderboard both Żubrówka and Krupnik continued to post solid gains, while the long list welcomed completely new million­-case brands including Ladoga Group’s Tsarskaya, which experienced an enormous 50% volume growth.

Following our recently published Brand Champions 2017 – our pick of those brands selling more than one million cases annually that are performing exceptionally within their category – we run through the world’s best-selling vodka brands on the market today.

Click through the following pages to discover the top 10 best-selling vodka brands, listed in order of their nine-litre case sales.

10. Belenkaya

2016: 3.72m
2015: 3.47m
% change: 7.27%
Place last year: –

Due to Bayadera Group’s non-disclosure of Khlebny Dar figures, Synergy-owned Belenkaya has jumped into the list of top 10 best-sellers, with 2016 marking a pivotal year for the brand in terms of sales. The brand has been plagued by years of declines due to ongoing troubles in its domestic Russian market, but is tentatively back in growth with the addition of 0.25m cases in 2016. No mean feat in a region where consumer confidence is said to be “the lowest in history”. Said to be the largest spirits group in Russia, Synergy has changed its name to Beluga Group as part of a strategy to strengthen its position as an international business. We won’t be surprised if we see Belenkaya move up the leaderboard in the years ahead.

9. Skyy

2016: 3.90m
2015: 3.95m
% change: -1.27%
Place last year: 9

Despite posting a single-digit contraction last year – teasing the Gruppo Campari-owned brand away just shy of the 4m cases mark – Skyy retained its position at number nine. Having been impacted by weakness in the flavoured category in recent years, the brand has been culling certain flavour variants and redirecting its focus on the trend for natural ingredients by strengthening its Infusions series. CEO Bob Kunze-Concewitz said he “absolutely” has faith in vodka brand Skyy, explaining that the brand is “a combination of two stories”.Talking to The Spirits Business last month, he said: “There’s the core market, where the brand is outperforming its historical peers but is being impacted like every single vodka brand in market by two brands – one attacking from the top and the other one from below.” In April, Skyy launched a US campaign centred on its 25-year history, called Make Every Day, which he believes “will do [the brand] a lot of good”. Let’s see if he’s right.

8. Grey Goose

2016: 3.98m
2015: 3.95m
% change: 0.76%
Place last year: 10

After a year packed with travel retail activations, immersive experiences, marketing campaigns, pop-ups and more, Bacardi-owned Grey Goose is clearly beginning to reap what it has sowed. While the 0.76% growth rate might appear unremarkable on paper, the super-premium brand has battled market saturation, flavour fatigue, pricing and competition challenges powered by its multi-continent Extraordinary Summer campaign to remain buoyant. In December, the brand enjoyed a double-digit sales uplift after launching its “largest ever” travel retail activation as part of its ‘Gift of the Extraordinary’ campaign, and followed this in February by recruiting five leading UK bartenders to create its Film Awards Season Cocktail Collection, served at the BAFTAs and other star-studded celebrations.

7. Pyat Ozer (Five Lakes)

2016: 4.20m
2015: 4.20m
% change: 0.00%
Place last year: 7

To say Pyat Ozer has had a tough few years would be something of an understatement. However, considering that the volume sales of the Alcohol Siberia Group-owned brand have continuously plummeted from almost seven million cases in 2012 – due to the Russian vodka’s ongoing domestic market struggles – it has done remarkably well to put the brakes on the declines. Pyat Ozer drummed up consumer chatter by signing Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Roman Burtsev to star in its ad based on “fakes” in summer last year, but there is work to be done.

6. Svedka

2016: 4.40m
2015: 4.20m
% change: 4.71%
Place last year: 6

There’s no holding back Constellation Brands-owned Svedka vodka, which continued its positive growth streak with the addition of 200,000 cases in 2016. The brand continued to build upon its flavour portfolio, adding what it called the “most sought after flavour” among millennials, Blue Raspberry, in spite of the widely acknowledged consumer ‘flavour fatigue’. Svedka is one of Constellations fast-growing, high-margin ‘focus brands’, which collectively delivered depletion growth of 9% in the 12 months to February 2017.

5. Krupnik

2016: 4.40m
2015: 4.00m
% change: 10.00%
Place last year: 8

For parent company Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits’ woes (the company is currently implementing its BiG 2018 turnaround plan) Krupnik has picked up pace in recent years, posting impressive gains and winning back almost all ground lost during the vodka crisis. The second biggest-selling brand in Poland, Krupnik has cleverly built on tradition and its classic taste profile to up its consumer mindshare standings, building on 14.29% volume gains in 2015 to add a further 10.00% uplift in the last calendar year. “In Eastern European countries, pure vodka is drunk mainly in shots. No additives like juice changes it’s taste, so this is why only the best quality vodkas like Krupnik are leaders,” Stanislas De Parcevaux, MBWS’s group chief marketing and digital officer, told SB in May. Will the uptick last? All signs suggest so. After climbing three places in The Brand Champions standings and growing faster than all its top 10 competitors bar one, it seems this timeless Eastern European vodka has cemented its consumer appeal for years to come.

4. Żubrówka

2016: 7.10m
2015: 6.15m
% change: 15.45%
Place last year: 5

Is there no stopping this bison grass-flavoured spirits stalwart? Adding close to one million extra cases in the past 12 months alone, Roust’s flagship flavoured vodka has defied all category connotations and continued to pack on the volume sales. If the rate of growth continues, Żubrówka looks set to break into the global top three spirits brands in 2018. Flavour fatigue, anyone? But the performance is a stark contrast to Roust’s wider fortunes. While sister brand Russian Standard remained in growth, the parent firm has embarked on a major debt restructuring plan and had its US application for bankruptcy approved in January 2017. In a statement, the group described the move as the “consummation” of a strategy to “strengthen” its balance sheet and said it precedes plans to launch an IPO. Whatever plays out over the rest of the year, Żubrówka’s momentum looks set to up Roust’s appeal to investors.

3. Khortytsa

2016: 7.51m
2015: 7.29m
% change: 3.02%
Place last year: 3

Another solid performance from Global Spirits’ Khortytsa saw it retain its top three vodka spot while adding more than 200,000 cases to its annual sales tally. But some analysts might have expected more from the brand, given Global Spirits’ increased activity in the key US market following a significant 2015 investment and restructure. In May 2016 the firm appointed General Beverage Sales Company to expand US distribution, while senior sales team appointments in December saw experienced execs Jose Guerrero and Jim Amstutz charged with growing the brand alongside sibling Leaf Vodka. “In an effort to position the organisation for rapid and continued growth in 2017, we have realigned our sales team to maximise our market opportunity,” CEO Maxim Dubossarsky said at the time. As such, expect Khortytsa to notch up stronger growth still over the course of this year.

2. Absolut

2016: 11.00m
2015: 11.02m
% change: -0.18%
Place last year: 2

Pernod Ricard-owned Absolut remains the second largest vodka brand in the world. After an abysmal few years, Pernod launched a strategy to “stabilise” the brand in early 2016. Speaking at a roundtable discussion later in September, the group’s managing director, finance and operations Gilles Bogaert said the firm is “on track” to deliver its mid-term objectives. While Absolut has seen struggles in the US due to a competitive category and tough pricing, the brand is upbeat about Western Europe, where it is experiencing a “strong sell-out performance’, particularly in the UK, Germany and France, driven by strong brand activation and the launch of its Absolut Facet bottle. Pernod Ricard released a new lime variant for Absolut Vodka at the beginning of 2017, despite admitting a flavour cull had been implemented across the brand’s portfolio last year.

1. Smirnoff

2016: 25.50m
2015: 25.80m
% change: -1.16%
Place last year: 1

Last year we named Diageo’s Smirnoff as the Vodka Brand Champion, reporting that it has “turned a corner” as it reported growth for the first time in 36 months. But in 2016 the world’s best-selling vodka just couldn’t quite manage to build on those volume gains that had secured it the accolade. So what went wrong? The brand seemed to be doing everything right, from introducing innovative cross-category hybrids like Smirnoff Cider to tapping into the trend for real fruit with Smirnoff Sourced. “Our philosophy is to think like a challenger,” Matt Bruhn, Smirnoff global brand director, told SB in 2016 – a clue, perhaps, to the squeeze the brand feels from those disruptive ‘craft’ players flooding the market and wooing consumers. Will Smirnoff manage to claw back growth in the 2017 calendar year? Recent initiatives suggest the brand is taking that mindset seriously.  Its low-alcohol RTD launched for the Korean market shows a thoughtful approach to local trends, while its ‘Russia-gate’ US ad speaks to a politically aware irreverence usually the mainstay of smaller, edgy producers. But with a Diageo budget behind it, there’s no excuse for Smirnoff not to tap into and capitalise on these niches.

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