MODELS TO TROLL TAVERNS FOR PRICEY FRENCH VODKA: IMPORTER ADAPTS ITS SUCCESSFUL JAGERMEISTER TACTIC TO PUSH GREY GOOSE

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Sidney Frank Importing Co. is hoping a little sex and a $3.2 million marketing campaign will distinguish its high-end vodka from other brands in a crowded niche.

Starting in June, the company will send models trolling through trendy cigar bars to push Grey Goose vodka, a French import that costs up to $27 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

If the approach sounds familiar, it should. Frank has used models to promote its Jagermeister liqueur in bars since 1985. The company evinces confidence that the Grey Goose "vodka-ettes" will succeed as well as its so-called "Jagerettes."

'WORKED BEAUTIFULLY'

"The Jagerettes worked beautifully," said Sidney Frank, chairman-CEO of the importer.

The company last year sold 500,000 cases of Jagermeister, up 13% from 1995.

While a leader in the "shooter" category-sweet alcoholic drinks served chilled and unmixed-Frank is a newcomer to the increasingly competitive premium/ superpremium vodka segment.

The category includes such brands as Seagram America's Absolut, Skyy Spirits' Skyy Blue and Millenium Import Co.'s Polish import Belvedere. Unlike Absolut, many rely more on word-of-mouth and offbeat marketing techniques than paid media advertising to drive sales.

Vodka sales have been flat in recent years, but premium brands have been rising, said Frank C. Walters, director of research for Impact, an industry trade publication.

Of an estimated 34 million cases of vodka sold in 1996, about 5 million, or 14.7%, were imports, representing the bulk of premium brands.

"There has been an absolute surge of premium vodkas in the past couple of years," said Rebecca Green, brand manager at Sazerac Co., a liquor importer and bottler that handles Taaka vodka as well as the new Rain brand.

Mr. Frank is undeterred by the competition. He said 60,000 cases of Grey Goose vodka already have been sold.

CHERRIES AND ADS

Besides dispatching the vodka-ettes, who will be dropping a Grey Goose line of flavored cherries into patrons' martinis, the importer will start running print ads from Spielman & Associates, Philadelphia, in June. The ads will first appear in the trade press before moving into upscale consumer magazines.

Mr. Frank said the rise of cigar bars and their menus of expensive martinis creates a natural market for a pricey French vodka.

"The cigar and martini bars are sizzling," he said. "They'll double in the next

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