Vodka brands face name-change threat

Vodka brands sold in the European Union could be forced to rename their products “white spirits”, if the Baltic states successfully put pressure on the EU for the term vodka to be given protected status.

Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden are arguing that true vodka should only be made from potatoes or from grain, and that spirits made from other raw ingredients should not be allowed to use the name. A bill is to be put before the European Parliament’s agricultural committee this month.

According to industry experts, about 20% of the British spirits market consists of vodka produced from molasses or sugar beet, mainly for own-label brands. However, Diageo, the world’s largest spirit’s producer, has at least one premium vodka brand, Ciroc, which would be hit by the ban, as it is made from grape skins. Rival brands such as Sweden’s Absolut and Finland’s Finlandia will be unaffected as they are made from either potatoes or grain.

If the bill goes through, some vodkas would have to be renamed “pure white spirit”. Diageo and the UK’s Gin and Vodka Association have teamed up to lobby against it.

Diageo corporate relations director for Northern Europe Alan Butler says trying to restrict the term vodka would be counter-productive, unworkable and potentially damaging to exports to the US. Furthermore, market research shows that “consumers do not know what vodka is made from and do not care. A vodka brand’s reputation is not dependent on the raw materials used.”

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