Smoked salmon vodka! That can’t be white?


The most popular spirit in Scotland is vodka, by a country mile, but it seems like gin is also making inroads. Susan Young reports.

Scotland has always outperformed the rest of the UK when it comes to white spirit sales in its pubs and clubs. Currently, for instance, 30% of pub sales can be attributed to white spirits in Scotland compared to a national average of 21% for the rest of the UK. We don’t just drink vodka and gin, we make it too. Approximately 80% of gin and vodka now comes off the line in Scotland.

Vodka unfortunately is the one spirit which for some reason mixologists and serious bartenders tend to turn their noses up at. But its obvious from the stats that Scots love it.

Says David McGowan, Commercial Manager, Diageo GB, comments, “The key to the white spirits category is Smirnoff, the number one spirits brand and the second largest brand in the Scottish on-trade, generating over £700k year on year growth in sales value. In particular, Smirnoff Red is outperforming the vodka market with 6.1% value sales growth1, resulting in Smirnoff’s share of the Scottish vodka market growing from 68.3% to 69.4%.” Lately, the key news when it comes to vodka is the variety of flavours that have appeared. In fact, only last month Smirnoff launched Espresso. Absolut led the way when it launched Absolut Peppar back in 1986 into the US. At the time the bars were serving up Bloody Mary’s, and Absolut Peppar was the vodka of choice for many.

Today, the variety of flavours in the vodka market is mind blowing. There is a flavour for every palate, whether you are into sweet or savoury. In fact, in 2011 it was estimated that there were approximately 115 different flavours of vodka in the market – obviously many of them have not made it across the water to the UK. I know you might find it hard to believe, but there is actually a bacon flavoured vodka, and one flavoured Smoked Salmon! On the sweet side, Smirnoff’s latest flavour in the US is Fluffed Marshmallow and Whipped Cream, which I am sure would go down a storm with sweet-toothed Scots. Smirnoff’s range in the UK is slightly more sedate.

Says David McGowan, “Flavours are a proven category growth driver for vodka, and Smirnoff leads the Flavoured Vodka segment with its current portfolio, comprising Smirnoff Lime, Smirnoff Green Apple, Smirnoff Vanilla, and Smirnoff Blueberry. The launch of Espresso offers an additional opportunity for operators to drive vodka sales with a new and exciting innovation. The new variant also inspires consumers to try something different and experiment with flavours.”

However, it is not just flavoured vodkas that are prevalent, Premium and super vodkas are also to be seen on the back bar of many bars, and it appears that many consumers are trading up to more Premium brands. This is helped by the fact that many Scottish nightclubs have adopted the ‘buy a bottle’ culture and it’s become hip and happening for groups of friends to book a booth and order a premium bottle of vodka, usually Belvedere. But clubs such as Sugar Cube in Glasgow have a wider range of super premium vodkas including Cristal which comes in a £350 and it is selling. (What recession?)

It’s not just super premium vodkas that are getting attention, premium gins too are proving an attractive proposition. Gin sales overall in Scotland have grown. The twelve weeks to Feb 2013 according to CGA figures saw an increase in gin sales in Scotland of 15.4% and premium gins saw even more growth.

McGowan comments, “Despite the economic downturn, sales show that consumers are choosing higher quality spirits. The opportunity for up-sell represents a big opportunity for Scottish operators, and is reflected in Tanqueray sales increasing by 56% in the last 12 weeks and Smirnoff Black up 29% over the same period.” Vodka remains one of the most versatile spirits on the market, and with Smirnoff driving the category and utilising social media to attract consumers, it seems that its popularity is far from waning. However, it is still disappointing that while mixologists may know how to pour a good cocktail they often fail when it comes down to pouring a vodka and coke. They still don’t ask you what vodka you want, and they do not ask if you want a bottle of coke! So much for the perfect serve.

For some reason they tend to get it right when it comes to gin and tonic, asking what brand you want and serving it, generally speaking with lime and a bottle of tonic. I cannot understand why bartenders have an inherent snobbery when it comes to gin vs vodka? They should be showcasing what they can do whether they serve up a cocktail or a long drink.

1 CGA Total 12 week value sales in Scotland On Trade to 23/02/13

Category: Features, Spirits
Tags: smirnoff, Spirits, vodka