Absolut became the world's most fashionable spirits brand during the 1980s and 1990s: a vodka which managed to transform itself into a style icon, largely as a result of one of the ad industry's most admired and most consistently imaginative print marketing campaigns. The ads themselves have become collector's items, selling for as much as $50 for a page simply torn out of an old glossy magazine. But this is no longer just a trendy cult tipple. Absolut is still one of the world's top spirits brands by value, sold in 126 markets, and it was for many years one of the few spirits brands which consistently notched up sales increases in a shrinking market. Sweden's best-known alcoholic beverage continues to put pressure on market leaders Bacardi and Smirnoff, but all three have themselves lost ground to smaller rivals. Absolut has been slowly declining for several years, especially in the US. In 2017, it was pushed out of the global Top Five spirits brands by volumes, but remains the global #2 vodka behind Smirnoff. Researcher Impact estimated worldwide sales of 11.2m cases, worth $2.4bn at retail. That was around two-thirds the value of top-selling Smirnoff, but almost double the next most valuable global vodka brand. In the US, though - still Absolut's biggest market - it has been overtaken by a string of competitors including Tito's and New Amsterdam. Impact estimated a 2.5% slide in US volumes in 2019 to around 3.5m cases. The brand has tried to expand its market by venturing beyond simple flavoured vodka, and into premixed variants. Absolut Juice, introduced in 2019, was a mix of vodka, strawberry juice and vanilla flavouring. Other limited edition variants have followed. Previously owned by the Swedish state's Vin & Sprit company, Absolut was acquired by Pernod-Ricard in 2008 for a total of €5.6bn. The Absolut Company is a division of Pernod-Ricard, headquartered in Stockholm. Stephanie Durroux succeeded Anna Malmhake as CEO in 2020. All production is still located in Absolut's original home town of Ahus. Absolut is now partnered by several less famous but even more expensive vodkas (such as Absolut Elyx and locally produced micro-distilled Our/Vodka), and the Absolut Company also has responsibility for Pernod-Ricard's Malibu and Kahlua brands.
Capsule checked 12th June 2020
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Who are the competitors of Absolut? Absolut's main global competitor is Smirnoff, more than twice as large by volume at 25.5m global cases in 2019. There is stiff competition for the #3 spot, especially from newer US-based vodkas, such as Fifth Generation's Tito's (9.0m cases) and E&J's New Amsterdam (5.3m cases). Other key rivals are Constellation's Svedka (4.5m cases), SPI's Stolichnaya (3.8m), Campari's Skyy (3.6m), Russian Standard (3.6m), Bacardi's Grey Goose (3.6m cases) and Diageo's premium Ketel One (2.6m) and super-premium Ciroc (1.8m). There are also a number of non-premium Eastern European vodkas including Zubrowka, Khilbniy Dar, Khortytsa and Nemiroff, all with volumes between 4m and 8m cases. See also Alcoholic Beverages Sector index
Historical profile information for Absolut
Recent stories from Adbrands Update:
Adbrands Weekly Update 15th Sep 2017: Ads of the Week "One Night". We were a bit underwhelmed by BBH London's "circle of kisses" debut for Absolut vodka, but this follow-up, very different in style, is a doozy. Also a worthy and much-needed return to form for an agency that's experienced a few challenges recently. How about this for a brief? "A history of the world from creation to now in 60 seconds". The results show how hours of painstaking research in the archive footage library can truly be time well spent.
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Feb 2016: Figures from market watcher Impact Databank show that Pernod-Ricard's Absolut brand has been toppled from its longtime position as the top-selling imported vodka in the US, and the overall #2 behind Smirnoff, by Constellation's Svedka, also originating from Sweden. Svedka's US volumes were up 3% last year to 4.2m cases, while Absolut's slipped 2% to 4.1m. Absolut could face a further threat this year from US-made New Amsterdam vodka, which jumped 25% in 2015 to 3.7m cases. Smirnoff continues to dominate the vodka market with a little under 10m cases.
Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Sept 2015: Whiskies and (to a lesser extent champagne) were the main drivers of growth in Pernod-Ricard's results for the year to June. There was double digit percentage growth for Jameson and The Glenlivet, and high single-digit for Mumm and Perrier-Jouet. That offset continued weakness for lead brand Absolut, whose sales slipped back by 1% globally, and by 5% in its key market of the US. Currencies helped too, lifting revenues by a reported 8% to €8.56bn, or 2% organic excluding currency. Absolut's weakness prompted a €650m impairment charge against that brand, resulting in a 15% slide in attributable group profit to €861m. According to CEO Alexandre Ricard, the main drag on US sales of Absolut has been a sharp decline in flavoured variants, and a consumer shift away from vodka towards "brown spirits", primarily whisky. (Local sales of its Jameson Irish whiskey, for example, jumped 18%). One imaginative but slightly bizarre response by Pernod has been the release of a oak-aged Absolut variant that is itself whisky-coloured rather than transparent.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Jan 2015: Whisky gets the majority of the headlines these days, but vodka is continuing to show steady growth in the US market, according to industry monitor Impact Databank. Seven of the leading brands showed growth and the top 10 combined rose by around 2% to 37m cases. However, all the gains went to the likes of Svedka, Grey Goose, Skyy and New Amsterdam. Market leaders Smirnoff and Absolut both registered a decline as did former hotshot Pinnacle. Smirnoff slipped 1% to 9.7m cases, and Absolut shed 1.5% to 4.6m. Pinnacle was the biggest loser overall, down more than 2% to 2.7m cases.
Adbrands Weekly Update 20th Feb 2014: There was a shakeup in the traditional order of the world's leading spirits brands last year, as whisky, and especially American whisky, retained its popularity at the expense of white spirits. According to latest figures from industry monitor Impact Databank, Smirnoff held on to the top spot as the best-selling premium spirit in 2013, despite a slide in volumes, but longtime #2 Bacardi fell behind Johnnie Walker for the first time and Absolut slipped into 5th place behind Jack Daniel's. Almost all of the leading brands were under pressure, with Smirnoff, Bacardi and Absolut all shedding sales while Johnnie Walker was flat. Jack Daniel's, though, scored 5% growth, while rival Jim Beam put on almost 9% further down the table. The changing nature of the market was underlined by half-year figures from Pernod-Ricard, which acknowledged a 3% decline in Absolut volumes between July & December. By comparison, its Jameson Irish whiskey scored an impressive 13% gain.
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