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Russian Standard Vodka to launch in Australia


Nothing standard about this battle of the vodkas

Julian Lee

A BATTLE is looming in the $480 million vodka market when the first global Russian vodka brand launches here next month and challenges the purity and country of origin of rivals in its marketing.

Russia’s largest vodka brand, Russian Standard, arrives with the bold ambition to be number two in the market within two years, and is investing more than $6 million in marketing to go up against Smirnoff and Absolut.

The brand’s owner, Roustam Tariko, 47, has struck a deal with Beam Global Australia to distribute its three vodka labels: Original, Platinum and Imperia.

Mr Tariko, who owns a bank and a credit-card company, sees little risk in launching a luxury brand in a recession: “The feeling I get on the street is that people here take pleasure seriously. People seem to be less affected by events. They are still spending.”

Sales of bottles of vodka – excluding the ready-mixed market – have grown 32 per cent in value in three years, according to Nielsen research. The market for premium and “uber-premium” brands, such as Belvedere, Grey Goose, Ketel One and the soon-to-be-launched Imperia, is growing by 19 per cent by volume and is worth $98 million.

The Kalashnikov and the KGB aside, Russian Standard can claim to be Russia’s first and only truly global Russian brand.

After communism collapsed Russians woke up to the fact that other countries – Poland, Sweden, Finland and France – were making money out of their national drink. “Russians were celebrating their marriages with those brands and they were upset they were not Russian,” Mr Tariko says.

And, as with any premium brand, there is a back story, in this case the tsar’s original recipe, made from Russian grain with glacial water drawn from a lake near the St Petersburg distillery.

The marketing will be more conventional. The global TV commercial trades on a stylised Russia: a snow-clad world steeped in imperial history and populated by sultry ice maidens – one that is far removed from the popular view of modern Russia, the bling capital of the Baltic.

James Sykes, the marketing director of Beam Asia Pacific, said that while the ad is reminiscent of a ”1980s cologne” advertisement it worked in a ”post-ironic kind of way”.

“They have alighted on an exposition of Russia that really works,” he said. ”A place that is dark and mysterious but also very much desirable, and that’s the Russia [the public] will buy into.”

In a thinly veiled attack on Smirnoff, which accounts for more than half the 1.15 million cases sold in Australia each year, Mr Sykes says that ”unlike other brands that are Russian in name only, this is the genuine article”.

Smirnoff’s owner, Diageo, does not produce any vodka in Russia and makes scant mention of the country even though it was founded in Moscow 140 years ago. Diageo Australia’s marketing director, John Green, defends its purity. ”Consumers choose Smirnoff because it’s original, authentic and delivers exceptional quality.”

Since its introduction in Britain in 2007 Russian Standard has overtaken Absolut to be the second-biggest-selling brand behind Smirnoff, which still has 60 per cent of the market.

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Saturday, January 20, 12:57 am

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