Interview: How Stoli Adapted to the Gluten-Free Consumer Lifestyle

Stoli Group USA recently introduced Stoli Gluten Free, a new vodka made from corn and buckwheat. The latest addition to Stoli’s portfolio features the words “Gluten Free” on the front label and meets the U.S. TTB standards for gluten-free labeling, because it’s made with naturally gluten-free raw ingredients.

Stoli Gluten Free is available for a suggested retail price of $19.99 for a 750-ml. bottle. I recently spoke to Stoli Group’s Director of Brand Marketing, Russ Pareti, to find out more about Stoli Gluten Free’s launch.

JN: Why introduce this new vodka to the marketplace now?
RP: We’ve been a pioneer in the category over the years. Stoli was among the first to come out with flavors and we were the first to go super-premium with Elit. As consumers’ tastes and lifestyles change, we want to identify and adapt to those changes. We found that one way to do that is introducing a gluten-free, premium vodka.

We’d conducted quite a bit of research with consumers, distributors and retailers, and everything we uncovered showed that gluten-free was not a fad or trend, but an emerging lifestyle. Studies say 20% of consumers are actively looking to include more gluten-free products in their diets, and our internal surveys showed that 80% of consumers were unaware of gluten-free vodkas in the marketplace. When you add all that up, we saw this as a great opportunity.

SPOTLIGHStoli Gluten-Free copyJN: How do the gluten-free ingredients impact the production process and the taste of the vodka?
RP: The production is the same as our Stoli Premium vodka. Stoli Gluten Free is distilled three times and filtered four times through quartz sand and birchwood charcoal before being blended with spring water. It all starts with the ingredients – in order to be gluten-free, you need to use gluten-free raw ingredients, so we found that a blend of 12% buckwheat and 88% corn was the perfect recipe to achieve a signature character and taste for the vodka.

Using buckwheat really brings forward a bolder tasting vodka, while remaining smooth with a clean finish. It’s much bolder than the corn, grape and potato vodkas already on the market.

JN: What promotions and advertising are you planning to coincide with the launch?
RP: There’s a 360-degree program with $1 million in total support, including consumer marketing and advertising, trade print and digital, public relations, social media and on- and off-premise sampling. We’re putting strong support behind this launch and we’ll be targeting traditional outlets that we’re working with on our other brands.

Our expectation is that off-premise distribution can build quicker due to scalability, where often times a single person influences buying decisions at many stores. We’ve found that our on-premise chain partners have also received the product very well and we’ll continue to find opportunities there to place additional distribution.

JN: Do you expect competitors to follow suit and label their vodkas as gluten-free, or introduce new products that meet the gluten-free requirements?
RP: Stoli has created a completely new recipe to meet the needs of gluten-free consumers. Although there are other vodkas on the market that are gluten-free, those companies created a product that happened to be gluten-free.

We went out of our way to create this product specifically for a subset of consumers. We spent a lot of time and resources to innovate in this category and develop the right taste profile and packaging. We’ll be the primary vodka that has the words “gluten-free” printed prominently on the label. But yes, I’ll be curious to see whether others in the vodka category follow suit.

Jeremy Nedelka is editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine, a sister publication of StateWays.

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