First Drinks claims win in dispute over Stolichnaya

UK drinks distributor First Drinks claims UK supplies of Stolichnaya vodka are now secure, after disruptions caused by a dispute between brand-owner Soyuzplodimport (SPI) and the Russian Ministry of Agriculture (MW March 7).

The Russian government claims the trademark rights to Stolichnaya were sold illegally to SPI in 1992, during the chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has impounded 180,000 cases of the vodka. SPI claims it bought the rights legally, and has since invested $20m (£13.7m) in promoting the brand and another $50m (£34m) settling the debts of its state-run predecessor.

To get round the export ban, SPI has begun sending distilled spirits to Latvia, where local firm Latvijas Balzams bottles it as Stolichnaya. First Drinks has had the Latvian-bottled vodka tested, and is satisfied that it is indeed Stolichnaya. This solution may be temporary, however. At the beginning of this month, the Latvian parliament passed a law forcing alcohol manufacturers to use locally produced spirits in their products.

If the law stands, Latvijas Balzams will have to stop bottling Stolichnaya and Moskavskaya, another SPI brand.

If First Drinks can secure its supplies of Stolichnaya, it plans to add two new variants – strawberry and lemon – later this year. It already sells orange, raspberry and vanilla flavoured Stolichnaya, as well as Stolichnaya Red, Blue and Crystal unflavoured vodkas.

Distribution of Stolichnaya in the US is handled by Allied Domecq.

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