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Pernod Ricard has admitted that Absolut has struggled in the US in the last few years, but improved sales in recent months have come from a stronger focus on Absolut's original flavour expression, the brand's marketing chief has told just-drinks.

Absolut has returned to growth in the US, according to recent figures

Absolut has returned to growth in the US, according to recent figures

Earlier this month, just-drinks commentator Richard Woodard argued that the brand's recent problems suggested that a turnaround was some way off. A EUR404m (US$455m) writedown on the brand in August was sandwiched by sales declines in the US of 5% in both fiscal-2014 and fiscal-2015.

"The painful truth is that, amid current trends, Absolut is the wrong brand in the wrong place at the wrong time and the wrong price," Woodard wrote last week.

Speaking exclusively to just-drinks yesterday, Craig Johnson. Absolut's VP of marketing at Pernod's Absolut Co unit, conceded that the brand had suffered in the US. "Vodka in the US is unbelievably competitive," he said. "We know that. It's very apparent that Absolut has had struggles."

However, Johnson cited Nielsen figures showing that Absolut sales in the country had risen by 1.9% in the last six months, with Absolut Original increasing by 4.3%.

"One of the big shifts that we can see happening is a real focus on unflavoured vodka," he said. "We probably pushed things too far in our flavoured approach. Many brands followed, and took it even further. So, there's been a bit of a backlash to that. But, today, we can see consumers coming back to the original expression."

At the same time, Johnson said a growing sense of optimism in the US was proving beneficial to the spirits industry in general and to vodka in particular. "This has resulted in a lot of fun coming back into drinking," he said. "Disco-era cocktails are back on the menu, for example, and this trend is very strong territory for original vodka."

Johnson also flagged that the company will launch a new marketing campaign tomorrow for the brand, which will focus more on Absolut's provenance and heritage. "Consumers want this kind of information today," he added. "They want brands they can trust. There is no other vodka brand that can deliver a story as real as Absolut can.

"But, we don't want to lose our focus on the drinking occasion. So, we're revising the Absolut Nights campaign in the US, evolving it into more of a story-telling approach. We probably had … not been as confident or bold in telling our stories. But, we're back, and we're going to tell these stories in a strong way."

Earlier this year, Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes told just-drinks that getting the group's Smirnoff vodka brand back to growth in the US was a big priority.


Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Absolut, Pernod Ricard

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