Premium gas prices might cause consumers to flinch, but when it comes to the spirits category, they’re not afraid of premium prices. According to Chicago-based Mintel’s 2011 “Spirits & Liqueurs” report, despite economic concerns, premium-quality spirits are in demand among consumers. With this growing trend, Paris-based LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Belvedere Vodka brand continues to find ways to reach this consumer base.

“Belvedere Vodka is the world’s first super-premium luxury vodka, and as consumers return to their pre-recession preference for premium brands, along with respecting authenticity and character more and more, we feel we are well-positioned with the category,” says Charles Gibb, president of Belvedere Vodka.

Vodka remains the most popular category in the North American market, according to Mintel. In the market research firm’s report, it notes that vodka accounted for 32 percent of new product launches in the region.

Given the growth in this segment, Gibb understands the importance for brands to differentiate themselves.

“As the vodka category gets more crowded, it’s becoming more difficult for brands to stand out,” he says. “It’s important first and foremost that you have a fantastic-tasting liquid inside the bottle. Adhering to Polish vodka-making tradition is fundamental to the naturally smooth taste of Belvedere.

 “Beyond that, our use of innovative marketing tools and social media channels that engage our consumers at multiple touch points are helping to cut through,” he continues. “It’s not just the retail space but the consumer mind space that you have to be occupying, and that is where Belvedere is strong.”

Gibb adds that the brand’s core consumers predominately are males aged 21 to 49, with a “sweet spot” for the 25 to 34 age group. Appealing to their demands for a high-quality product, Belvedere also looks for opportunities to be relevant in its consumers’ daily lives.

“For example, we know our consumer is passionate about music, so we created the popular Belvedere Music Lounge, which took place at the Coachella, Lollapalooza and Ultra music festivals this year,” he says. “In addition, our newly launched partnership with Rolling Stone to sponsor their new editorial-based app keeps the brand top of mind real-time. Now our consumers have access to the music content they want, when they want it, and Belvedere is the brand that brings it to them.”

Belvedere consumers also showcase a passion for food and wine, so the brand has a similar partnership with the Food & Wine app, which allows them to use the brand in an epicurean environment, Gibb adds.

Flavored in tradition

Flavor exploration is gaining ground in the spirits market. Mintel notes in its report that it remains an important consideration in the overall spirits category, and segments such as vodka have experienced growth through these innovations in recent years. The market research firm adds that the overall spirits category has seen both popular and unusual flavors being used in new product launches.

For Belvedere, the flavored vodka segment was an avenue it put a lot of thought into when building its portfolio.

“Belvedere has embraced a different approach to flavors,” Gibb says. “We take our cues from popular drinks, like last year’s Bloody Mary Vodka and this year’s Belvedere Lemon Tea. Our unique maceration uses only 100 percent fresh, natural and additive-free ingredients. Because we use real fruits rather than synthetic and artificial flavors and aroma chemicals, the Belvedere macerations actually taste like fresh and natural fruit vodkas.”

Launched in 2011, Belvedere Bloody Mary combines Belvedere vodka with fresh tomato, black pepper, horseradish, bell and chili peppers, lemon and a touch of vinegar distillate for a spirit that is made specifically for use in the cocktail of the same name.

“Belvedere Bloody Mary was introduced to celebrate the long-standing tradition of brunch and is the first vodka made specifically for a drink,” Gibb says. “With the introduction of Bloody Mary, we have cemented our leadership in maceration.”

Also tapping into mixology applications, the super-premium brand launched Belvedere Lemon Tea earlier this year. Lemon Tea is distilled and macerated with black and green teas, ginger, chamomile, lemongrass, honey and lemon.

“With Lemon Tea, which launched in 2012, we wanted to continue to showcase our maceration process and how tea can be used to create a refreshing spirit,” Gibb notes. “Simply add lemonade or iced tea for a perfect summer refreshment. Both are great at-home drinks where consumers can impress their friends by mixing a delicious cocktail simply with one or two ingredients.”

Although Belvedere’s quality means consumers shouldn’t require many ingredients to craft a good drink, Gibb acknowledges that mixology is an important part of new product development. He credits Claire Smith, Belvedere’s head of spirit creation and mixology, with introducing and enhancing its maceration collection.

“Claire is responsible for developing our extensive cocktail collection that uses the most extraordinary ingredients that enhance the flavor of any Belvedere product,” Gibb says. “Claire’s expertise is most evident in her ability to understand where consumer tastes are headed and then creating a cocktail or maceration that meets that demand while remaining true to the Belvedere core.”

Packaged for a cause

Looking to produce a bottle that will be an attention grabber for consumers, Belvedere enlisted the help of Polish design firm Dekorglass for its new 2012 (Belvedere) Red special edition bottle.

“By marrying Belvedere’s traditionally innovative packaging with the iconic (Red) hue, we’ve created a dramatic semitransparent metallic bottle that is sure to pop off the shelves and create eye-catching displays,” Gibb says.

The (Belvedere) Red bottle is in its second year; Belvedere launched the special-edition bottle last year in partnership with (Red), a charity that works with brands and organizations to bring together millions of people in the global fight against AIDS. Partners of (Red) direct a portion of their profits from (Red)-branded products, services and events to the Global Fund to invest in HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. Belvedere joined the program in 2011.

Last year, Belvedere activated the Red bottle in 35 countries globally. Gibb notes Belvedere’s contributions went toward numerous life-saving efforts including providing more than 2 million days of life-saving HIV/AIDS medicine to help keep people living with HIV healthy and help HIV-positive pregnant women deliver HIV-free babies.

 “All of this was done by consumers who bought bottles of (Belvedere) Red,” Gibb says. “Our goal this year is to double our donation.”

Fifty percent of profits from global sales of the 2012 (Belvedere) Red special edition will contribute to the Global Fund to help achieve its goal of an AIDS-free generation by 2015, the company says.

Gibb adds that it will continue this partnership into 2013, and he is looking forward to additional opportunities that lie ahead for the brand.

 “I am very optimistic about the rest of 2012 and beyond,” he says. “The vodka category remains vibrant, opportunities for innovation abound, and consumers are once again willing to spend more for the premium brand they prefer. We’ve never been in a better place, and Belvedere is ready to take full advantage of that.” BI