US solace for Grand Met

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GRAND Metropolitan has gained some consolation for the loss of a lucrative US contract to supply Absolut vodka by taking over the distribution of Stolichnaya in the US from PepsiCo, writes John Shepherd.

The Russian-made and premium- priced Stolichnaya will be distributed by Carillon, the Grand Met subsidiary that turned the Swedish- made Absolut into the best-selling imported vodka in the US.

Grand Met recently lost the American distribution rights for Absolut to Seagram, the Canadian company. And last week it agreed to let Seagram take over the Absolut account from February, eight months earlier than it had to. Stolichnaya will also become part of Grand Met's drinks portfolio, which includes Smirnoff vodka, from 1 February.

About 3 million cases of Absolut were sold in the US last year, generating more than pounds 25m of profits for Grand Met. That compares with 1 million cases of Stolichnaya which, analysts believe, would equate to about pounds 7m of profits. Both brands retail between dollars 13.99 and dollars 17.99 a bottle.

PepsiCo has held the US rights for Stolichnaya since 1973, and will continue to hold them on Grand Met's behalf for the next six years.