Top 100 Brand in The World – Rank no.95 – Smirnoff – Russia
|Country of origin||Russia|
|Alcohol by volume||35% – 50%|
|Proof||70 – 100|
|Related products||List of vodkas|
Smirnoff is a brand of vodka owned and produced by the British company Diageo. The Smirnoff brand began with a vodka distilleryfounded in Moscow by Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov (1831–1898). It is now distributed in 130 countries. It is produced in several countries including India, Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States Smirnoff products include vodka, flavoured vodka, and malt beverages. In March 2006, Diageo North America claimed that Smirnoff vodka was the best-selling distilled spirit brand in the world.
Pyotr Smirnov founded his vodka distillery in Moscow in the 1860s under the trading name of PA Smirnoff, pioneering charcoal filtration in the 1870s, and becoming the first to utilize newspaper ads along with charitable contributions to the clergy to stifle anti-vodka sermons, capturing two-thirds of the Moscow market by 1886. His brand was reportedly a Tsar favorite. When Pyotr died, he was succeeded by his third son Vladimir Smirnov (? – 1939). The company flourished and produced more than 4 million cases of vodka per year.
In 1904, the Tsar nationalized the Russian vodka industry and Vladimir Smirnov was forced to sell his factory and brand. During the October Revolution of 1917, the Smirnov family had to flee the country. Vladimir Smirnov re-established a factory in 1920 in Constantinople (present day Istanbul). Four years later he moved to Lwów (formerly Poland, now Lviv, Ukraine) and started to sell the vodka under the contemporaryFrench spelling of the name, “Smirnoff”. The new product sold marginally well but not nearly as it had in Russia prior to 1904. An additional distillery was founded in Paris in 1925 however the company was a shadow of its former self.
In the 1930s, Vladimir met Rudolph Kunett, a Russian who had emigrated to America in 1920. The Kunett family had been a supplier of grains to Smirnoff in Moscow before the Revolution. In 1933, Vladimir sold Kunett the right to begin producing Smirnoff vodka in North America. However, the business in America was not as successful as Kunett had hoped. In 1938 Kunett could not afford to pay for the necessary sales licences, and contacted John Martin, president of Heublein, who agreed to buy the rights to Smirnoff for the value of the distilling equipment. His board thought he was mad. Americans were traditionally whiskey drinkers unfamiliar with vodka and so sales were very slow. In a marketing move they changed the product to use whiskey corks instead and branded it as a “white whiskey” with “no taste, no smell”. Sales picked up considerably after that.
In 1982, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein Inc. for $1.4 billion. RJR Nabisco sold the division to Grand Metropolitan in 1987. Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diageo in 1997.
Since the 1990s
In 1990, the Berlin Wall came down and Helmut Kohl made a deal with Gorbachev allowing the reunification of Germany provided the Soviet army could remain in East Germany due to acute and widely known problem of living quarters availability in the Soviet Union and be paid by West Germany for three years. Suddenly 500,000 Soviet soldiers were paid in hard currency and had almost nothing to do except drink. They then proceeded to spend their currency on Marlboro cigarettes, Levi jeans and Smirnoff vodka. The US-made variety of Smirnoff vodka was especially popular.
The London office of Heublein was inundated with orders and the Vice President, Jeremy Collis, set about exploiting this “gusher” to the fullest extent possible. Huge in-store Smirnoff displays were set up in the Russian army stores and the officers’ messes were renamed Smirnoff Clubs. Individual messes started serving in excess of 200 litres a night of Smirnoff. The Soviet forces became the biggest market in Europe for Smirnoff outside the UK. Smirnoff was shipped to Germany at the rate of 20,000 bottles a day. Moskovskaya and Stolichnaya‘s market share in Germany dropped from 100% to almost nothing.
Seeing the popularity of Smirnoff amongst the Russian troops, Collis set about trying to sell Smirnoff vodka directly into the USSR. The entire vodka market in the Western world at that stage was 60 million cases (Source: M. Shanken Publications: “Impact” 1991) but the USSR market was believed to be over 200 million cases (Source: “Impact”1991). The first containers were shipped into Leningrad in 1991 where Collis had appointed a distributor, Empire Brands Inc.
Empire Brands was established by Sergey Titov, a former interpreter with no prior commercial experience. In Soviet Russia almost no one had ‘commercial experience’ so Titov became a model for expanding distribution across the country. Collis went from town to town trying to find suitable individuals who could be taught how business worked – buying, warehousing, distributing and selling at a profit. The plan was to establish approved distributors in each major town and give them exclusive rights for that town because there were numerous towns with populations over 100,000 which each had the potential to be as large a market for Smirnoff vodka as the whole of Belgium or Holland or a US state like Connecticut. Outside the Soviet state apparatus there were no national organisations that could market and distribute Smirnoff.
The demand for Smirnoff vodka was such that if properly managed and the opportunity grasped, the Russian market alone could double the size of IDV, already the biggest drinks company in the world. The communists had banned Smirnoff from Russia for 70 years and in the most extreme example of ‘denial marketing’ this had created both awareness and demand on an extraordinary scale. Every Russian had heard of Smirnoff vodka and everyone thought it must be the best because they weren’t allowed to have it. Collis believed that in 1991, selling Smirnoff in the USSR represented the biggest opportunity for a consumer product in the history of marketing. But he then made a big mistake by telling this to the Board of IDV. As a consequence, every director in IDV wanted to be part of this amazing success story and Collis found himself being squeezed out by other directors with no knowledge or experience of either the USSR or the brand. One director in particular managed to persuade the Board that exclusive distribution rights should be given to one man in Moscow – a Greek mafioso character called Spiros with no marketing or distribution experience, staff, or infrastructure. Many people subsequently believed that major corruption must have been involved. This appointment proved disastrous as established customers were cut off from buying Smirnoff unless they made illegal hard currency payments to Spiros’s company.
During the 1990s one of Piotr Smirnov’s descendants started producing Smirnov (Смирновъ) vodka in Russia, claiming to be “The Only Real Smirnov”. After a number of lawsuits, Smirnoff successfully reclaimed its trademark, while in 2006 Diageo concluded a joint venture deal with the Smirnov company.
The Smirnoff company had the naming rights to the Smirnoff Music Centre, a concert amphitheater in Dallas, Texas from 2000-2008. They also sponsored the Smirnoff Underbelly, a major venue at the Edinburgh Fringe.
In the late 1990s, Smirnoff introduced a series of new products onto the UK and later the European and North American market, which quickly became popular among young people, especially within the club scene (See “Alcopops“).
There are two different products by the name of Smirnoff Ice. One, sold in France and the United States, is a citrus-flavoured malt beverage (5.0% ABV) with variants in “Original,” and “Triple Black.” The other, sold in Europe (excluding France), Latin America, Australia and Canada, is a premixed vodka drink. It also has variants in “Original” and “Black Ice” (or in some markets, “Triple Black” or “Double Black”), ranging from 4.5% in the UK, to 7% ABV in different markets.
The Smirnoff Ice marketed in the USA does not actually contain vodka according to the official Smirnoff website. It is more similar to beer than to vodka, primarily because it is brewed. However outside of the USA and countries who receive US manufactured vodka it does contain Smirnoff Vodka No. 21.
Smirnoff Ice Twisted was a spin-off of the American Smirnoff Ice that featured flavors such as Mandarin Orange and Green Apple. The confusion in branding between Smirnoff Twist Vodka and Smirnoff Twisted Malt Beverage resulted in the decision to drop the “Twisted” from the flavored line of Smirnoff Ice. Current Smirnoff Ice flavors include Watermelon, Wild Grape, Passionfruit, Mango, Triple Black, Pomegranate Fusion, Arctic Berry (Blueberry), Green Apple Bite, Strawberry Acai, Pineapple and Raspberry Burst. It is sold in 22 oz. [650 ml] bottles and six-packs of 12 oz. [355 ml] bottles.
The next line of Smirnoff’s malt beverages to be produced was “Raw Teas”, similar to the brand Twisted Tea. It comes in flavors such as Lemon, Peach, Raspberry and Green Tea. This product line has been marketed most notably with the “Tea Partay” music video and website. It is sold in six-packs of 12 oz. [355 ml] bottles.
Smirnoff Source, a lightly carbonated beer-alternative, was released in May 2007. It is citrus-flavoured and made with alcohol (3.5% ABV) and spring water and is sold in 4-packs of 1-quart [947 ml] bottles.
A line of 22 flavoured vodkas with the “Twist” moniker appended on the end of the name have also been introduced. Flavours include Green Apple, Orange, Cranberry, Raspberry, Citrus (Lemon), Vanilla, Strawberry, Black Cherry, Watermelon, Lime, Blueberry, White Grape, Melon (Honeydew/Cantaloupe), Pomegranate, Passion Fruit, Pear, Peach, Pineapple, Mango and most recently Coconut, Whipped Cream and Marshmallow.
Smirnoff trialed in the UK and Canada during 2004 a new blend of vodka entitled Smirnoff Penka. Marketing and distribution was handled by The Reserve Brands of Diageo plc. As of 2007 Penka continues to be available in the UK.
In a 2005 New York Times blind tasting of 21 world-class vodkas, Smirnoff won as the “hands-down favorite”.
The newest addition to the Smirnoff family is the Cocktail Range, which was introduced in 2010. Pomegranate Martini with Meyer Lemon flavoured Liquor and pomegranate juice, Mojito with a dash of mint and kaffir lime and Grand Cosmopilitan with cranberry juice. Tuscan Lemonade and Savannah Tea were later added.
Most Smirnoff products have an identifying number that is displayed on the label. Some of these numbers are:
- 21: Smirnoff Red Label, 37.5% or 40% ABV location dependent.
- 21: Smirnoff North (previously Smirnoff Norsk). This is the classic Smirnoff Red Label vodka flavoured with Nordic Berries. In theUnited Kingdom and some other markets, it is called Smirnoff Nordic Berries.
- 21: Smirnoff Classic Mix. Smirnoff No. 21 vodka premixed with either lime soda or cola in a 70-cl bottle.
- 21: Smirnoff “Expertly Mixed”. Smirnoff No. 21 vodka premixed with Cola or Tonic Water in a 250ml can. Cola mix is 6.4% abv, Tonic is 7.5% abv.
- 21: Smirnoff Vodka and Cranberry Juice. Smirnoff No. 21 vodka premixed with Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice in a 250-ml can.
- 21: Smirnoff Mule. Smirnoff No. 21 vodka premixed with ginger beer and lime. 4.8% ABV
- 21: Smirnoff Espresso. Coffee-flavoured Smirnoff vodka, 37.5% ABV.
- 27: Smirnoff Silver Label Vodka, 45.2% ABV.
- 55: Smirnoff Black, 40% ABV. A small-batch vodka that is produced in copper stills.
- 57: Smirnoff Blue Label Vodka, 45% or 50% ABV (location dependent)
- 57: Smirnoff Dark Roasted Espresso. Espresso-flavored vodka, 50% ABV.
- 57: Smirnoff Spiced Root Beer. Root beer-flavored vodka, 50% ABV.
- 60: Smirnoff Vladimir, 40%. Available only in Poland
- 63: Smirnoff Twisted V Green Apple
- 64: Smirnoff Ice Pomegranate malt beverage, 5.5% ABV
- 66: Smirnoff Ice Raspberry Burst malt beverage, 5.0% ABV
- 66: Smirnoff Twisted V Raspberry malt beverage
- 67: Smirnoff Twisted V Mandarin Orange malt beverage
- 68: Smirnoff Twisted V Black Cherry malt beverage
- 69: Smirnoff Twisted V Watermelon malt beverage
- 70: Smirnoff Ice Watermelon malt beverage
- 71: Smirnoff Ice Triple Filtered malt beverage, 5.6% (4% in some locations) ABV.
- 72: Smirnoff Ice, 5% ABV. In the United States, it is a malt beverage; elsewhere it is vodka-based. Labeled as “Spin” in South Africa.
- 73: Smirnoff Black Ice, 7% ABV. In the United States it is a malt beverage; elsewhere it is vodka-based. Labelled as “Storm” in South Africa.
- 74: Smirnoff Ice Triple Black. A lime-flavoured malt beverage sold in the United States, 4.5% alcohol.
- 75: Smirnoff Ice Double Black. Sold in Australia, South Korea and New Zealand. 6.5% ABV
- 76: Smirnoff Ice. Sold in Canada. 7% ABV
- 83: Smirnoff Ice Wild Grape malt beverage, 5% ABV
- 84: Smirnoff Twist Arctic Berry
- 85: Smirnoff Twisted Raspberry. Sold in Canada.
- 92: Smirnoff Twisted Green Apple. Canada 7%
- 97: Smirnoff Ice Triple Filtered. Sold in Germany and Portugal. 3% ABV
- 103: Smirnoff Twisted V Arctic Berry
- 110: Smirnoff Ice Double Black & Cola
- 120: Smirnoff Ice Spice. Sold in Japan.
The basic Smirnoff vodka — number 21 — has performed well at spirit ratings competitions. It was awarded a double gold medal (the highest award) at the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Products without numbers
Some Smirnoff products do not have a number on the label.
- Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow. Marshmallow-flavored vodka, 30% ABV.
- Smirnoff Iced Cake. Cake-flavored vodka, 30% ABV.
- Smirnoff Kissed Caramel. Caramel-flavored vodka, 30% ABV.
- Smirnoff Whipped Cream. Whipped cream-flavored vodka, 30% ABV.
- Smirnoff Root Beer Float. Root beer float-flavored vodka, 30% ABV.
Smirnov (Russian: Смирнов) can be seen as the Russian version of Smirnoff vodka. It is made by the Smirnov Trading House, a company that is part of a joint venture by Russia’sAlfa Group and Diageo, the owner of the Smirnoff brand. The full title of the Smirnov Trading House is The Trading House of the Heirs of P.A. Smirnov.
Smirnov vodka was launched in 1991 by Boris Smirnov, a scion of Pyotr Smirnov, the original producer of the spirit. After many lawsuits, which resulted in Diageo’s brand being banned in the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Russian brand became a “sister product” of Smirnoff vodka.