What’s next for the Ukrainian spirits market?

What’s next for the Ukrainian spirits market?

It’s an thrilling time for the spirits trade in Ukraine, with speak that the nation may change into the ‘new Poland’. Tom Bruce-Gardyne speaks to model homeowners about their plans.

Ukraine’s spirits market is promising. Pictured: the spires of Saint Sophia Cathedral, a well-known Ukrainian landmark

*This function was initially revealed within the April 2021 challenge of The Spirits Enterprise

The Ukrainian flag is a straightforward affair – a band of blue over a band of yellow signifying fields of wheat and the sky above.

This was the historic bread basket of Russia, and what wasn’t baked into bread was brewed into beer or distilled into horilka, the Ukrainian phrase for robust spirits. Whereas there are infinite variations of horilka based mostly on varied infusions, in addition to a complete sub‐class of samohon, or moonshine, we’re basically speaking about vodka.

At this time, home vodka accounts for 72% of Ukraine’s spirits market, in response to Nemiroff, the country’s leading vodka, with a 40% share and world gross sales of 5.05 million circumstances in 2020.

On 12 November 2020, Nemiroff formally turned Ukraine’s first personal agency in trendy occasions to acquire its own distillery. After a long time of state monopoly on alcohol manufacturing, the federal government relaxed the principles in 2020, permitting Nemiroff to purchase the Nemyriv distillery for UAH55m (US$1.9m).

“It was fairly an emotional second for the model,” recollects Nemiroff CEO Yuriy Sorochynskiy. It reconnected the corporate to its roots and means “we’ll now be capable to management the entire course of, which is essential for high quality”, he says. “There’s additionally the economics as a result of when you’ve gotten a state monopoly, the worth is greater, so we will now be extra aggressive.”

Nemiroff claims to be the quantity three vodka in world journey retail – by far the worst hit sector during the pandemic. “We noticed an enormous adverse influence on our gross sales in responsibility free,” says Sorochynskiy. “After all, 2020 was a really turbulent yr, however general, our volumes elevated.”

Nemiroff old distillery

Nemiroff acquired the Nemyriv distillery final yr

Gross sales grew in Ukraine, the place vodka is historically drunk at residence with the night meal. In the course of the first wave of Covid‐19, bars and eating places had been closed for a few months till mid‐Might, and there have been periodic restrictions since, however it appears the nation’s on‐commerce bought off comparatively frivolously.

“Bars did protest for ages after they had been absolutely shut,” says Kiev‐born and London‐bred Dima Deinega, who launched his triple‐grain Dima’s Ukrainian vodka within the UK final yr.

Visiting his residence nation in February, he discovered “the whole lot was utterly open, the one rule was that you just needed to pay on your drinks by 10pm and depart by 11”.

On the subject of the bar tradition in Ukraine, it’s not missing, in response to Deinega. “A number of the bars I’ve been to in Kiev are undoubtedly higher than a number of the greatest in London,” he says. “Additionally they have this wonderful competitors referred to as Barometer, the place bartenders from all over the world fly into Ukraine and provides masterclasses, and in that respect I’d say the cocktail tradition may be very Western, and it’s rising.”

He describes the nation’s vodka market as “very a lot centered on home manufacturers, most of that are very value delicate. In Ukraine it’s very uncommon for individuals to change vodkas; their model loyalty is unimaginable.”


Minimal alcohol pricing has pushed the price of the most cost effective vodka to UAH92 (US$3.30) per 500ml bottle, which is a few sixth the worth of a 700ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Pink Label. Western spirits are fairly a stretch for a lot of Ukrainians, however they’re getting nearer.

“The hole between vodka and whisky is now an element of two, whereas years in the past it was an element of 10,” says John Quinn, Tullamore Dew’s world model ambassador, who describes Ukraine as “not a nasty marketplace for Irish whiskey, with gross sales in all probability between 120,000 and 130,000 circumstances”. Above that sits US whiskey, at “round 150,000 circumstances”, then Scotch on “about 500,000”, he reckons. “So, it’s small, however it’s rising quickly with plenty of headroom to develop from recruiting individuals from vodka.”

Tullamore Dew bar shot

John Quinn of Tullamore Dew says Ukraine is “not a nasty marketplace for Irish whiskey”

Whisky, in all its varieties, dominates imported spirits, with a 27% share, in response to Mathieu Deslandes, Ballantine’s advertising and marketing director, and it grew by 24% final yr.

Apparently, Ukrainians are consuming 4 occasions as a lot Ballantine’s as they had been in 2016. “The dimensions of potential for Ukraine lies in two key elements,” he explains. “First, the whisky class is rising quicker than every other, and… though the imported spirits market is just 6% of the entire spirits market in Ukraine, we’re seeing extra younger shoppers switching from native merchandise to imported ones.”

This view is shared by Maciej Kadłubowski, Bacardi’s communications director EEURA (Jap Europe & Northern Asia) area.

“Ukrainians have a really European mindset and need to distance themselves from their Soviet‐sort heritage and historical past,” he says.

“They journey and are conscious of what’s hyped within the west. The youthful technology leans in the direction of worldwide manufacturers.”

With Scotch, the main target is William Lawson’s, which Bacardi launched in Ukraine 9 years in the past. It’s not the highest‐promoting whisky as it’s in Russia, however Kadłubowski believes it’s properly positioned within the worth sector. Priced on the equal of US$12, it’s there to catch vodka drinkers buying and selling up, or down from extra premium manufacturers, which is what’s believed to have occurred in the course of the pandemic.

On the subject of whisky: “I wouldn’t say individuals have a look at segments or nation of origin, have a look at the power of the model, which might be robust as a result of they’ve robust fairness,” says Kadłubowski.

Quinn agrees, and reckons that for Irish whiskey in Ukraine: “We have to construct a important mass for the class, which is able to make it stand out towards Scotch.”

Amongst his many rivals is Cutty Sark, which promotes itself by means of in‐retailer shows, sponsorship of occasions reminiscent of golf (Covid‐19 allowing) and thru coaching programmes with bartenders, explains Sylvia Bernard, group advertising and marketing director at proprietor La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet. She sees many parallels with neighbouring Poland, the place whisky’s market share of spirits jumped from 2% to 10% from 2009‐2019, in response to IWSR Drinks Market Evaluation. “Ukraine is in the fitting route to comply with the identical path within the coming decade,” she says.


Ukraine is a partially dark market, with restrictions on advertising, although not as extreme as in Russia or Poland. If spirits advertisements are banned on TV earlier than 11pm, Kadłubowski is unfazed. With youthful shoppers, “it doesn’t make sense to go on air, they only don’t watch TV anymore”, he says. “It’s far more related to have their favorite manufacturers endorsed by digital influencers and YouTubers.” Deslandes seems to agree, and says final yr “we supported the launch of Ballantine’s 7 Bourbon End in Ukraine with an enormous digital marketing campaign that resulted in 7.2m impressions”.

There may be additionally a nascent curiosity in single malts thanks largely to Alexei Ostrovski’s Whisky Nook within the centre of Kiev, with its number of greater than 900 whiskies and connected bar and restaurant. He has change into an impartial bottler of malts to attempt to fulfill the insatiable urge for food amongst his prospects for one thing new.

The Whisky Nook, Kiev

Whereas Ukrainians appear wedded to their chosen model of vodka, as Deinega explains, they are often wildly promiscuous relating to worldwide spirits.

There are different darkish spirits apart from whisky flowing into the nation, notably brandy from Georgia and Armenia to the east, and rum from the west. “We’re very a lot centered on our dark rum brand, Oakheart, which has an enormous footprint in Ukraine,” says Kadłubowski, who additionally mentions the rising curiosity in Bacardí Spiced.

Add in its sister model Martini, “an enormous model” right here, plus its not too long ago launched offshoot – Martini Fiero, an orange‐infused apéritif not dissimilar to Aperol – and Bacardi claims to be the main participant amongst worldwide spirits in Ukraine.

Whether or not it actually may be the ‘subsequent Poland’ is an thrilling prospect for spirits producers.

Ukraine has the same measurement of inhabitants – 44m to Poland’s 38m – and the identical European outlook. It aspires to hitch the European Union and probably Nato, though that might be provocative to Putin’s Russia.

Sceptics level to instability within the area and the very fact the nation’s GDP nearly halved from 2013 to 2015, although it has since recovered.

“Sadly, Ukraine has been unstable for years and years,” says Ostrovski. “We’ve got revolutions each 5 or eight years.”

However life goes on, and the Ukrainians are nothing if not resilient.

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