Stolichnaya vodka's 54m nine-litre case supremacy places it as the world's biggest brand but the past year has seen Bacardi-Martini's portfolio rocket up the league tables. In just-drinks.com's Premier League Brand 2001 report, white spirits rule, while whiskies wane and Tequila tumbles. Mary Hall and Elliot Lane report.

Fights over its ownership and the labyrinthine nature of its actual production have kept Russia's most famous (and infamous) export, Stolichnaya vodka, in the news this year. just-drinks.com's first Premier League Brand Report 2001 should give Allied Domecq heart as it wrestles the brand's distribution rights from UDV.

At a breathtaking 53.95m nine-litre cases (9lc) during 2000, a 1.31% increase on 1999, Stoli remains the kingpin in volume terms. However, 98% of this total volume is in domestic market and so we have categorised it a regional brand, with UDV selling only 1.1m (9lc) in the export market in 2000. There is evidently potential for Allied Domecq to take this brand truly global in 2001.

Allied and UDV will clash again this year when the disputed rights to the Captain Morgan rum brand finally goes before the courts. It is worth fighting for according to the report. Showing a consistent performance past several years, Captain Morgan rum sales rose nearly 20% in the past 12 months to 4.3m (9lc) and the brand is reported to be valued at US$1.8 billion. Should Allied Domecq succeed in its claim to the rights from the Puerto Rican distillers, Destilleria Serralles (for a reported US$1.5bn), this amount would have to be refunded by Seagram.

"Though the likelihood of Allied Domecq winning, on paper at least, is fairly strong, it seems highly unlikely Seagram will lose in the US courts," said an analyst with a US investment bank.

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Internationally though Bacardi-Martini began the 21st Century with a definite bang. The privately-owned Bermuda-based company has one of the largest and effective distribution networks of all the multinationals, placing its portfolio in nearly every country worldwide. Sales of its core white rum dipped gently in 2000 due to a loss of over 1.5m (9lc) in Mexico. Excluding this market, volumes increased by 2.5%, even after an exceptional performance in the previous year, indicating that the brand's popularity is being maintained worldwide. Castillo rum was also up 7%.

But the company is no one-trick pony. Back in 1997 when it acquired Dewar's Scotch whisky and Bombay Sapphire gin from UDV, the industry wondered whether the company had bought brands past their former glories. Our figures may silence those critics.

The powerful marketing which Bacardi-Martini is able to bring to bear, especially in the US, is producing excellent results for these brands, both of which have shown good growth in this period. Bombay Sapphire, in particular has grown by 19% in the US markets, helping the brand breach the 1m (9lc) barrier for the first time.

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In the gin category, La Todena's Ginebra San Miguel has added a further 2m (9lc) in 2000, edging its volumes up over 27m despite price rises, making it the third largest brand in the world. It sits behind Jinro's Korean Soju with sales of over 52m (9lc). Sales of this company's soju brand have increased by nearly 12% (or over 5m (9lc)) in 2000, helped by line extensions. Its main export market is Japan where sales are strong, and last year it entered several new export markets including Russia, which together account for just over 4m (9lc) of its total volumes, though its franchise is still largely in the Asian region.

Vodka now towers above all its spirits rivals. Overall production amounts to 120m (9lc) worldwide though, with the exception of Smirnoff and Absolut, all the 19 brands we surveyed are regional.

In the international line-up, Diageo's Smirnoff Red came second behind Bacardi at 15.9m (9lc) though its overall growth showed a modest decline, resulting from the slowdown in US sales at the end of 2000 when the country's economy started its descent towards its so-called "soft landing". However, the genuine Swedish vodka, Absolut, continues to show vigorous expansion with a rise of nearly 9% to 7.3m (9lc). JBB/Maxxium's purchase of this icon is quite a prize.


With such a wide range of products there is considerable disparity in performance

In Poland, the uncertainty surrounding the privatisation programme of the state-owned Polmoses has taken its toll on the biggest brand, Wyborowa. The substantial disruption has dented the leading brand's sales in the short term, but sources are optimistic about its recovery. It has been repackaged and repositioned, and when (or if) Pernod Ricard finally seals the international distribution rights to the brand, the vodka should have a sound basis for expansion. Its 2.9m (9lc) volume for 2000 was down by 3.33%.

A number of companies have launched opportunist brands in Poland but found it difficult to sustain results. Two current exceptions are Absolwent, (cashing in on its famous Swedish rival's brand name), which shot from nothing to 4m (9lc) but has remained static since; and Bols vodka which is only sold in Poland and has put on 25% growth in 2000 to reach 2.5m (9lc).

Whisky has suffered at vodka's expense, which can be traced to the rise in mixology and the RTD market, where the tasteless white spirit is the perfect alcohol to experiment with. In the report, there are 40 brands of whisky listed ranging from the Scottish international brands through to the regional and IMFL brands produced in India. With such a wide range of products there is considerable disparity in performance. Companies, which have always maintained strong support for their international brands, have been rewarded as consumers benefited from a number of prospering economies.

Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's Tennessee whisky is one such brand, putting on a spurt of a quarter of a million cases to gain second place among all whiskies (after Johnnie Walker Red). UDV's Johnnie Walker Black and Allied Domecq's Ballantines also showed exceptionally good growth as the Asian economies recovered and sales levels were restored. Dewar's White Label has continued to make good growth (under Bacardi's management), as have Pernod Ricard's two whiskies, Clan Campbell and Jameson's Irish.

Although somewhat mixed, on the whole, the good growth enjoyed by a number of Indian whiskies last year has not been maintained, and Suntory's Japanese whiskies are also under pressure.

The other major casualty is Tequila, one of the fastest-growing spirits of the 1990s, has had a dramatic slowdown as the shortfall in agave production became critical. Many small brands have virtually disappeared.


Many small brands have virtually disappeared

The two top-selling brands, Cuervo and Sauza, have implemented similar strategies to cope with the situation, but Allied Domecq's response was slow, and this is reflected in its brand's performance.

Both brands prioritised their markets (the US being the main focus); rationed the rest of the world; restructured their ranges in Mexico; and attempted to secure supplies. This meant withdrawing cheaper standard brands and moving sales to the more profitable higher qualities. Tequila Cuervo (which is 45% owned by Diageo), saw sales drop by 3%, but Sauza suffered a 28% drop, mostly in Mexico itself.

Improvement in the Asian economies is also reflected in sales of Cognac with Hennessy estimated to be up by over 6%, while Remy-Martin claims a rise of over 14% to 1.6m (9lc). Seagram's Martell has also made growth.

Elliot Lane and Mary Hall

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