The Private Investor: 'The future's black for vodka so it's bright for the investor now'

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The Independent Online

A colleague who must remain nameless sometimes has what he calls a senior moment. We all do, and they are mostly understandable, harmless and amusing. Thus Yitzak Shamir will get mixed up with Yitzak Rabin. A business woman magnificently named Martha Lane Stewart will be created. One one occasion, he did manage to confuse Hamas and humus, which did nothing for the credibility of his commentary on the Middle East and might well have led to a nasty chickpea-based incident down at the local taverna.

It is also easy for the corporate sector to bewilder us, especially with those us to be misled by some of those odd new names companies insist on giving themselves. Arriva, the bus company, versus Aviva, the insurer, for example. Then there's Vivendi, the almost bust glamorous entertainment conglomerate, and Viridian the far from bust and unglamorous Northern Ireland electricity company.

And of course we have Avis, the hire-car people who like to try harder to serve you and Alvis, the armoured-car people who like to try harder to protect you. One company that you oughtn't mistake for another one, however, is Blavod Black Vodka. Despite its Slavonic- sounding name it is made in Essex. Presumably the brand was derived from eliding "black" and "vodka". Or maybe someone had a senior moment.

I came across its existence not from hanging out in trendy vodka bars but by flicking through an edition of the Investors Chronicle. It is a black vodka because it has a herb called black catechu added to it, which has no taste but, so the company says, makes the drink smoother. It is a novelty.

It is also selling well in Moscow, although the general trend over there for vodka is down. Just as the Russians and Poles are abandoning their traditional taste vodka in favour of beers and wine, so we seem to be embracing the stuff just as readily. They tell me vodka is a proper alcoholic's drink because of the speed of the hit, whether you decide to put pineapple juice in it or not and because you cannot smell it on the breath. A sort of crack cocaine to gin's sniff I suppose.

The research says (I always say that when I can't remember where I've read it) that it is very much the young folks' drink. It is for some reason, trendy, and has had the benefit of the most ingenious minds in the drink and advertising industries thinking up different ways of packaging it and enticing us to consume it.

There are an awful lot of these on the market so it may be becoming saturated, if you'll pardon the expression. I believe there is a drink available known as a turbo shandy which consists of one half pint of lager and one half pint of Smirnoff Ice, or similar. I am rather frightened of trying one of those, I have to say.

Anyway it is all good news for my small holding in Diageo, owner of Smirnoff. The question is where the vodka mule is going to kick next. Could it be Blavod? The Investors Chronicle believes this might be so.

The brand seems on the path to profitability, that is, if it manages to sell 60,000 boxes. It was floated on the Alternative Investment Market five years ago. A major shareholder is Baron Emile de Rothschild, and Blavod has a useful sideline in distributing his Domaines Barons de Rothschilds wine vintages.

One shouldn't go too far wrong following his example, but one disturbingly simple, rather dark, thing occurs to me about Blavod black vodka; what is to stop anyone else from adding black catechu to their vodka and creating an instant competitor?

Talking of black, here's clever linkage even though I say so myself: Whatever happened to the stock market recovery? Recently my 2002-03 portfolio came tantalisingly close to going into the black (See? I told you I could do it).

Alas, now it is firmly in the red again, and the FTSE 100 index has slumped back towards 4,000. The cut in US rates to a 45-year low of 1 per cent, the lowest level since 1958, says it all really. The decision was apparently passed by 11 votes to one, which suggest that more will be on the way. Deflation is in the air. Things look black.

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

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