SEAGRAM HAS DINNER PLANS FOR NEW VODKA

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Seagram Americas, marketer of Absolut vodka, is on a quiet quest to create a hip brand image for its new import, Sundsvall vodka.

Its medium of choice: dinner parties.

This week, the distiller begins hosting a series of VIP tastings to introduce the superpremium vodka to an upscale target audience. The effort is coordinated by Arnold Communications, Boston, which won the account last spring.

WELL-KNOWN RESTAURANTS

The dinners will be held at three to five well-known restaurants in each of Sundsvall's eight rollout cities -- Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

"We chose the markets where trends are born," said an Arnold spokesman.

The target audience is "upscale trendsetters" from areas including the arts, philanthropy, business and government.

Seagram and wholesaler representatives also will tout the brand in restaurants and bars that draw vodka aficionados, said Drew DeSarno, marketing manager for Absolut and Sundsvall, both from V&S Vin & Spirit in Sweden

The grass-roots effort follows an introductory sampling push this summer. In August, Seagram sent bottles of Sundsvall, along with a sipping glass, to 125 consumers in each of the eight markets.

The next phase of the campaign will include a print effort, although a date or that hasn't been determined, said the Arnold spokesman.

EMULATING SMALLER FIRMS

By boosting Sundsvall through word of mouth, Seagram is following the strategy other much-smaller spirits purveyors used to stake out territory in the superpremium vodka category, including Nolet Spirits USA with Ketel One. But Seagram's size gives it some advantages.

"Seagram brings to the table a distribution network and the ability to bring the brand to market," Mr. DeSarno said.

Retail prices will vary according to market, but Seagram plans to place it $2 to $3 higher than other superpremium brands.

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