Category on the Rise: Flavored Vodka
Consumers trade sweet, confection-flavored vodkas for natural flavors and less sugar
In decades past, vodka came in one standard variety, and the spirit’s main selling point was its subtle, almost neutral character. That all changed about 10 years ago, when a wave of flavored vodkas hit the market in just about every tooth-achingly sweet variety you can imagine.
“There was a peak from 2011 to 2013 that we call ‘the confection stage,’ when we saw flavors like whipped cream, cookie, pumpkin spice, and cake,” says Brandy Rand, COO of the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. While these products were wildly popular at the time, she says, flavor fatigue eventually set in and consumers’ preferences shifted. Vodka’s sales volume tapered off as a result, and consumers moved on to other spirits.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the category saw an uptick, coinciding with the launch of brands such as Ketel One Botanical, which appealed to consumers’ desire for natural flavors and more herbal, fruity profiles. In 2020, the flavored vodka segment grew six percent by volume, according to IWSR, and accounted for around 15 percent share of the total vodka category.
“More Americans are actively seeking to choose more thoughtfully crafted, mindful options as a part of their everyday lives,” says Olivia Kupfer, brand director at Ketel One Vodka. “Ketel One Botanical’s product proposition — vodka made with real botanicals and natural fruit essences, with no sugar or carbs and only 73 calories per serving — speaks directly to this trend.”
Rand confirms that “better-for-you,” lower-alcohol flavored vodkas (defined as 16% to 22% ABV) are gaining popularity. In 2020, the category’s volume sales grew 12 percent, compared to six percent growth for the flavored vodka category as a whole.
On Drizly, flavored vodka currently makes up 14.5 percent of overall vodka sales, up from just over 14 percent in 2020 and 13 percent in 2019. According to Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights, “Flavor diversity and innovation, as well as the pandemic-inspired home mixology trend, are driving the category’s growth.”
Who’s Drinking Flavored Vodka?
Among consumers who purchase flavored vodka products on Drizly, the 35 to 41 age group accounts for the largest share of sales at 22.6 percent. The 28 to 34 age segment is close behind at 22.5 percent, followed by the 42 to 48 age group at 17 percent. The youngest demographic, aged 21 to 27, accounts for 16.5 percent of flavored vodka sales, compared to 12 percent of Drizly’s overall sales across categories.
Flavored Vodka’s Top-Selling Brands and SKUs
Large, well-established players dominate Drizly’s 10 best-selling flavored vodka brands. In order of greatest sales during the last 12 months, they include CIROC, New Amsterdam, Deep Eddy, Ketel One Botanical, Smirnoff, Absolut, Svedka, Stolichnaya, Pinnacle, and Grey Goose.
For two years running, Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit and Rose has held the No. 1 spot among Drizly’s top 10 SKUs. Pink Whitney by New Amsterdam, a pink lemonade variety that launched in 2019, moved up the list during the last 12 months from the No. 3 position to No. 2, and CIROC Limited Edition Summer Watermelon made its debut in the top 10 this year.
Drizly’s Top-Selling Flavored Vodka SKUs, Last 12 Months
- Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit and Rose
- Pink Whitney by New Amsterdam
- Deep Eddy Lemon
- Deep Eddy Ruby Red
- Absolut Citron
- Ketel One Botanical Peach and Orange Blossom
- Ketel One Botanical Cucumber and Mint
- CIROC Limited Edition Summer Watermelon
- SVEDKA Strawberry Lemonade
- New Amsterdam Peach
Flavored Vodkas to Watch
Along with more traditional fruit flavors, up-and-coming varieties include unique offerings such as dragonfruit, tamarind, pomegranate, and elderflower. “The category’s fastest-growing SKUs year-to-date include new fruit flavors and combinations,” Paquette says, “as well as flavor profiles like ‘spicy’ and coffee.”
SKUs on the rise also reflect the better-for-you drinks trend that has taken off during the last year, she adds, with brands such as Frankly Organic and Plume & Petal gaining share.
Drizly’s Fastest-Growing SKUs in 2021
- Plume & Petal Lemon Drift
- Absolut Juice Pear & Elderflower
- Frankly Organic Apple
- SVEDKA Pure Infusions Dragonfruit Melon
- Frankly Organic Strawberry
- SVEDKA Pure Infusions Strawberry Guava
- Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind
- Frankly Organic Pomegranate
- Smirnoff Sours Berry Lemon
- Death Wish Coffee
Flavored Vodka’s Future
In the coming year, Paquette expects new consumers to embrace the flavored vodka category as brands continue to innovate and add new flavors. “With consumers continuing to seek out better-for-you products across alcohol categories,” she says, “natural flavors and health- or eco-conscious products will be a driver of flavored vodka growth.”
While Rand predicts that flavors for new vodka offerings will mirror those of the ready-to-drink (RTD) and hard seltzer categories — Kupfer of Ketel One believes that RTDs will take inspiration from flavored vodka. “Since we launched Ketel One Botanical in 2018, we’ve seen other vodka brands follow suit and don’t see any sign of that slowing down,” she says. “We’re seeing the trend of botanical vodkas, or those infused with natural flavors, expanding into the ready-to-drink category.”
The company recently introduced its own line of canned cocktails, the Ketel One Botanical Vodka Spritz, in Cucumber & Mint, Grapefruit & Rose, and Peach & Orange Blossom flavors.