That was the consensus among drinks firms contacted by SLTN, who said that, despite tighter budgets, consumers are still willing to splash out on a premium serve.
Jonathan Cornthwaite, brand manager for Icelandic vodka Reyka, which is distributed by First Drinks, said: “As the economy continues to stretch consumer budgets, the trend of going out less frequently but spending more when they do continues,” he said.
“As a treat, drinkers are willing to trade up to premium spirits and licensees should be prepared for this with a wide selection of brands on offer.”
Cornthwaite advised publicans to ensure their gantry has a broad enough range to create opportunities for up-selling.
“Operators should stock a wide range of mainstream and premium vodkas, allowing consumers to trade up,” he said. “Furthermore, bar staff should encourage this trade up and make recommendations.
“If there is a selection of cocktails and simple but interesting long drinks on the menu, this will meet a wide range of drinkers’ needs and cater to multiple drinking occasions.”
Operators seeking to maximise vodka sales can’t afford to rest on their laurels, according to Eileen Livingston, marketing controller for Maxxium UK, which distributes Stolichnaya.
Getting the serve right drives profit and customer loyalty.
“Outlets need to evolve to meet consumer demand, understanding and being passionate about the brands they are serving,” she said.
“Activation brings brands to life and adding an innovative serve to this will generate interest around vodka and flavoured vodka in their outlets.
“Innovation in serves and cocktail menus can enhance brand image and increase consumer uptake of premium and ultra-premium vodka.”
There are a few simple steps operators can take to encourage consumers to trade up to premium brands, said Ian Peart, on-trade director for spirits at Pernod Ricard, the firm behind Swedish brand Absolut.
“A simple and effective way for operators to encourage consumers to migrate to premium vodkas is by using them in cocktails,” said Peart.
“Another way that operators can encourage consumers to choose premium vodka brands is by up-selling.”
Although more complicated long serves can create an opportunity to up-sell, Peart said these kind of serves may not be appropriate for all venues.
“Outside of mixology-focused bars, speed of service is key and some bartenders do not have the time to make complicated cocktails,” he added, suggesting that for venues where speed is crucial, flavoured vodkas can offer an up-selling solution that isn’t time consuming.
A range of flavoured vodkas “can be used to create very simple, quick and easy to make mixed drinks,” said Peart, who claimed a flavoured range could “allow bars and pubs to differentiate their drink offerings”.
And the flavoured vodka sector is one he expects to continue growing.
“Bartenders are always looking to push the boundaries and are demanding more interesting and dynamic spirit flavours, while consumers are always looking for more exciting and unusual drinks to try,” he said.
“Therefore, we believe the popularity of flavoured vodka will continue to be a key growth area as it provides the on-trade with a simple way to experiment and attract customers with innovative drinks solutions.”
Livingston at Maxxium reckons the sweeter Scottish palate has led to flavoured vodkas being particularly popular north of the border.
“The popularity of cocktails, such as Martinis and long drinks, has definitely helped cement the position of flavoured spirits on the bar,” she said.
“Unique flavour combinations are a significant trend at the moment and we are seeing consumers, specifically the Scottish market which tends to have a sweeter palate, being attracted to the vodka category by sweet and indulgent flavours.”
But the products are only part of the story.
Cornthwaite at First Drinks said the perfect serve should be a top priority for any publican looking to maximise vodka sales.
“It should also be remembered that the drinking experience includes not only the drink itself but how it is served, the theatre of the serve and the glassware in which it is delivered,” he added.
“For many outlets it is simply a case of choosing the right glassware for their customers to create a special drinking experience. ‘Perfect serves’ showcase an outlet’s quality credentials and character.
“Getting the serve right drives profit and loyalty, highlighting the importance of the smaller details in creating an overall experience.”
Image – Flavoured vodka is a “key growth area” according to Pernod Ricard, the firm behind Absolut.