Fortune Brands plans to launch new flavoured Absolut and Vox vodka variants in the US.
 
Spirits giant Fortune Brands plans to roll out two new flavoured vodkas in the US in Q2 this year. It will roll out its own Vox Green Apple super-premium vodka on 1April, and then will launch Absolut Apeach, produced by Swedish V&S Group, in May.
 
The launches highlight the opportunities and the competition in the US vodka market, especially at the top end. The industry has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, driven largely by Absolut and its imitators, to make vodka into a 'sexy' category. Vodka is popular among younger adult consumers who would otherwise tend to consume beer, and would be unlikely to drink whiskey or gin in significant quantities.
 
Increased demand has brought enormous growth in the range of vodkas available, with Datamonitor recording 102 vodka drinks launched last year in the US alone. Premium flavoured vodkas like Absolut Apeach and last year's Skyy Orange are showing significant growth, while super-premium brands such as Vox, Stoli Elit and ZYR are smaller but are growing even faster.
 
The vodkas' success will be heavily dependent on whether their flavour captures the public eye. The other necessary factors are in place: both the Absolut and Vox parent brands are popular among consumers, with strong upscale associations and good recent sales growth.
 
Peach and green apple are both unusual choices: peach-flavoured vodka launches declined dramatically between 1995 and 2004, and green (or sour) apple flavour has not yet taken off in vodka (although regular apple has been one of the fastest growing categories). However, both flavours showed significant growth last year across other drinks categories, and Datamonitor rates peach as a 'star' flavour for 2005.
 
It could well be the right time to move peach and green apple into the vodka market. If so, then Fortune Brands' vodkas are on track for a successful year.