Comment - Branding - Soplica: From Discount Store to Heritage Brand

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This month, branding specialist Claessens International highlights the path taken by Central European Distribution Corp when the Soplica vodka brand found itself struggling in discount stores in its home market of Poland.


Soplica has a long history in the Polish market. The brand was originally created by Boleslaw Kasprowicz, who established the Manufacturing Plant of Vodkas and Liquors in Gnieznoin in 1888, with the first bottle of Soplica coming out the plant in 1891.

In more recent times, and despite its reputation as a high quality vodka, Soplica was finding its standing in the market under threat: New brands were coming into the market and forcing it out of its premium position. To combat this, the company introduced a number of changes and different presentations for the brand, with a view to making it appear more contemporary and appealing to a younger market.

Although the brand team succeeded in creating a more modern image for Soplica, this process also had the unfortunate side-effect of eroding a lot of the character and heritage from the branding. This was further compounded by the fact that it was starting to appear in discount stores across Poland, which was undermining its price point, positioning and reputation even further.

CEDC knew that something needed to be done – and quickly – if it was to rescue the Soplica brand from being irrevocably damaged. In partnership with Claessens, the firm undertook a development exercise that saw the brief evolve in a number of different directions over a long period of time.

“In the early stages, we worked directly with the chief executive of CEDC, as well as the marketing and brand teams, to look at the directions the redevelopment could take and the potential effect on the brand these directions would have,” says Claessens’ creative and managing director, James Boulton. 

Ultimately, because Soplica was still well-known for being a 'quality' vodka brand, with a good history and strong name among consumers, Claessens and CEDC agreed that the way forward was to build on this reputation and re-introduce Soplica’s heritage into the branding.

“What we eventually opted to do was move to a position of high quality, but with a visual presentation that allowed the consumer to see that this was still the old Soplica,” explains Boulton. “In the process, building a feeling of authenticity back into the brand; a sense that this was the real thing that would have been made in local homes, using natural ingredients and traditional flavours.”

Boulton adds that it was important that Soplica didn’t lose connection with the consumer. For this reason, things such as the label shape and the embossed chevrons on the side of the bottle were carried through into the new branding, giving it a sense of continuity. What the new branding also did was to change consumer expectation around the drink itself, giving it an almost artisan feel, thereby raising price expectation.

“We turned up all the emotional aspects of the brand to heighten the feeling of provenance," continues Boulton. "We also introduced a signature on the label to enhance the sense of Soplica being hand- made by people with a deep knowledge of the vodka-making process. On top of this there is a list of ingredients to show that it is natural. The perception of the label now is that it acts as a guarantee of quality.”

The bottle development was also important. As it was a half-litre bottle for the Polish market, introducing a smaller size meant it had to work harder to get good standout on the shelf, particularly against the old bottle.

“We felt it was crucial that we made the bottle itself underline the feeling of heritage and authenticity around the brand,” adds Boulton. “We achieved this by using heavy embossing and giving the bottle a really tactile feel.”

This repositioning exercise was only part of the story. The biggest challenge for CEDC was how to stop the brand being irreparably damaged by its presence in the discount stores.

“By developing a new brand with a far higher quality image – and therefore price expectation – CEDC was able to place it in boutique stores and duty free shops, and keep it out of the discount stores,” says Boulton. “Allowing the original Soplica bottles to remain in the discount stores at the low price at the same time was also a key part of the process. Having both brands on the market simultaneously meant CEDC was able to really drive home the distinct difference between the new and old products and further enhance the premium perception around the new branding.”

This move effectively meant CEDC was able to drive the old brand out of the market, as it sold off its old stock.

“Not only did this repositioning save the Soplica brand, it doubled sales while allowing CEDC to raise the price,” says Boulton. “Sales have continued to rise and the brand is getting more shelf facings across the full range of four flavours, giving it much greater standout. Soplica has now been able to return to its rightful position in the market as a real, crafted and genuine Polish vodka.”

[Postscript: last month, in its half-year results, CEDC said that its sales of vodka in Poland increased by 6% in volume in the second quarter and by 20% in value, driven by, among others, Soplica.]

For more information on Claessens International, click here.

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