Diageo Great Britain is revamping its Smirnoff Black No. 55 vodka to pose a greater threat to rivals Stolichnaya and Absolut as consumer demand for premium vodkas increases.
Diageo has decided to reflect in the packaging the fact the vodka is made using a century-old method of copper pot distillation.
It says this reinforces its rare character and gives target consumers - men aged 25 to 35 - an increased perception of quality.
European brand director Philip Almond said: &"The relaunch of Smirnoff Black offers retailers a strong opportunity to capitalise
on the rise of premium vodka, which is currently growing at twice the rate
of mainstream vodka in the UK off-trade.&"
Earlier this year rival Pernod Ricard UK said it would be investing heavily in Stolichnaya vodka, which it acquired along with a raft of spirit brands from Allied Domecq last year. The drinks company said it had a vision of Stolichnaya becoming the number one premium vodka in the UK. Pernod said it saw Absolut as its main competitor, but Smirnoff Black could prove an additional threat in the fight for market share in this premium segment.
While the brands fight to position themselves as the most authentic Russian vodka, premium vodkas from smaller producers with a history in their domestic market - such as the 140-year-old Russian Postnoff vodka - are also starting to tackle the UK market. The off-trade premium vodka market is growing at 14% in volume compared with 7% for the total vodka category, according to ACNielsen (year to January 2006).
The retail price for a 70cl bottle of Smirnoff Black is £15.99, compared with the usual price for a Stolichnaya at £12.46 and about £13.83 for Absolut.
The Smirnoff Black relaunch will be supported by national print advertising and the brand will also benefit from the £15m spend on the Smirnoff parent brand this year.