While tequila and whiskey get much of the hype in the overall spirits category, vodka remains a mainstay among U.S. consumers. It’s the second-best selling spirit on Drizly after whiskey, and the third-largest category overall after whiskey and red wine. In 2021, vodka continued to grow, though more slowly than other categories. Still, vodka is not a category to ignore. Here’s how to maximize vodka sales looking forward.

A Slow-Growing, but Stable, Category

IWSR Drinks Market Analysis research shows that the total beverage alcohol market in the U.S. grew 2.3 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to the first half of 2020. Spirits did even better with a 3.8 percent increase, says Brandy Rand, COO of the Americas at the IWSR. 

The vodka category continued to grow through 2021, but it didn’t fare as well as the overall spirits category. The IWSR’s research found that vodka sales grew by 1.7 percent in the first half of 2021 compared to the first half of 2020, largely driven by high-volume formats from off-premise retailers — 1.75-liter bottles have a 56 percent share of vodka sales on Drizly in 2021 to date, compared to 32 percent share for 750-milliliter bottles and 10 percent share for one-liter bottles.

Vodka sales on Drizly in 2021 to date account for 23 percent share of all sales in the liquor category. In 2019, vodka commanded a 30 percent share of sales in the liquor category, while in 2020 it held a 23.5 percent share.

These seemingly sluggish numbers may point to the fact that vodka already comprises a large portion of overall spirits sales, and 10 percent share of total sales on Drizly. “You can’t expect vodka to grow at the same percentage as categories that are much smaller than vodka,” says Daniella Vizzari, the assistant marketing manager for Crystal Head Vodka. “If [sales share] did drop I would assume it would be due to the size and maturity of the category compared to other spirit categories.”

Some of vodka’s slowing growth in recent years may be an effect of the premiumization trend that has taken hold in other categories. According to the IWSR, premium wine and spirits sales are expected to grow 25.6 percent in volume from 2020 to 2025, compared to 0.8 percent growth for non-premium wine and spirits. 

However, vodka has not experienced premiumization in the way that many other categories have. The average unit price for vodka on Drizly has hovered between $21 and $23 since 2017, and it currently sits at $21.60.

Then there’s the rise of other categories that are taking from vodka’s overall share, like ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails, hard seltzer, and tequila. These categories are likely chipping away from vodka’s share, particularly within the liquor category .

“It’s certainly a possibility that vodka’s share could continue to wane as tequila continues to grow in share,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “In our recent Retail Report, 80 percent of respondents plan to stock more tequila next year, while only 40 percent plan to stock more vodka.”

Optimizing Vodka Sales

To maximize vodka sales, Paquette recommends that retailers build their inventory with best-selling brands. “Start by ensuring consistent stock of top-share plain vodka brands, like Tito’s, Smirnoff, and Svedka,” she says. “Then consider investing in flavored vodka or regional brands that are top-selling items in your market.”

Drizly partners can use the Drizly Retailer portal to access the “Top-Selling Items I Don’t Carry” report, which will indicate which best-selling vodkas — both on a national scale and in their market specifically — are not in their inventory. Retailers should cross-reference this with vodkas included in their “My Top-Selling Items” report in order to identify which products might be better to add to their selections.

“By leveraging the data from both reports,” says Paquette, “retailers can optimize their inventory strategy for their current selection as well as introducing new products.”

Compared to 2020, the top vodka brands of 2021 held consistent with the exception of Deep Eddy, which rose from No. 10 to No. 9, moving SKYY into the No. 10 spot. 

Drizly’s Top-Selling Vodka Brands, 2021

  1. Tito’s
  2. Smirnoff
  3. Grey Goose
  4. Svedka
  5. Ketel One
  6. Absolut
  7. New Amsterdam
  8. CIROC
  9. SKYY
  10. Deep Eddy

Straight vodka is the most popular style within the vodka category, though flavored vodka commands a respectable share that has slightly increased from 15 percent in 2020 to 16 percent in 2021.

Flavored vodka also has a more fluid list of top sellers, with plenty of movement from 2020 to 2021. “While standard vodka’s top SKUs have stayed fairly steady year-over-year and sales are led by top sellers like Tito’s, we see more movement in the flavored vodka category as flavor trends shift and more innovation occurs,” says Paquette.

Drizly’s Top-Selling Vodka SKUs, 2021

  1. Pink Whitney by New Amsterdam Vodka 
  2. Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit and Rose
  3. Ciroc Vodka
  4. Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka
  5. Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka
  6. Ketel One Botanical Peach and Orange Blossom
  7. Absolut Citron Vodka
  8. CIROC Limited Edition Summer Citrus
  9. Ketel One Botanical Cucumber and Mint
  10. New Amsterdam Peach Vodka

Drizly’s Top-Selling Vodka SKUs, 2020

  1. Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit and Rose
  2. Pink Whitney by New Amsterdam Vodka
  3. Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka
  4. Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka
  5. Ciroc Vodka
  6. Ketel One Botanical Peach and Orange Blossom
  7. Ketel One Botanical Cucumber and Mint
  8. Absolut Citron Vodka
  9. CIROC Limited Edition Summer Watermelon
  10. SVEDKA Strawberry Lemonade Flavored Vodka

The fastest-growing vodka SKUs on Drizly are led by flavored ones but also include regional expressions from Oklahoma, Philadelphia, and Santa Cruz, California, as well as options made with experimental base ingredients. 

Who is Buying Vodka?

Sales in the vodka category as a whole tend to trend more female. Women have a 52 percent share of straight vodka sales on Drizly, and a 63 percent share of sales of flavored vodka on Drizly.

Vodka sales on Drizly are also higher among millennials and Gen X. Millennials make up a 48 percent share of standard vodka sales on Drizly, followed by Gen X (34 percent share), baby boomers (13 percent share), and Gen Z (five percent share). Millennials also lead sales of flavored vodka with a 48 percent share of flavored vodka sales on Drizly, followed by Gen X (34 percent share), Gen Z (nine percent share), and baby boomers (nine percent share).

The demographic makeup of flavored vodka is similar to flavored whiskey. Millennials command a 56 percent share of flavored whiskey sales, followed by Gen X (28 percent), Gen Z (eight percent), and baby boomers (seven percent). While they hold a relatively small share of sales, Gen Z purchases are notable when you factor in that the age demographic only has a three percent overall share of sales on Drizly.

Where Are Vodka Sales Headed?

Vodka could see growth, or at least sustained interest, thanks to an overall growing alcohol market. IWSR expects alcohol consumption to return to pre-Covid levels by 2023, and then go up through 2025. Alcohol e-commerce in particular is expected to continue to quickly expand. IWSR notes that alcohol ecommerce value is predicted to grow about 20 percent annually through 2025 in the U.S.

When it comes to vodka in particular, its per-unit price may prove advantageous in some markets.

“This category is taking a large proportion of consumers away from beer due to a better price-per-unit-alcohol ratio,” says Rand.

However, the growth of other categories, particularly RTDs, could continue to impact vodka for years to come, so retailers should keep overall purchasing trends in mind when making inventory decisions. Paquette recommends supplementing vodka inventory with vodka-based RTDs, which will capture sales among consumers who prefer a pre-mixed, canned cocktail option. 

Seasonality is another thing to keep in mind when planning stocking decisions into 2022.

“Typically, the flavored vodka share spikes seasonally during the late spring and early summer months of May through July,” says Paquette, “while standard vodka accounts for more share of the total category during the winter.”