VODKA-BASED GLACIER BAY GOES AGAINST WINE COOLERS: LOW-ALCOHOL BEVERAGE AIMS $5 MIL IN ADS AT BOTH SEXES

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A new ready-to-drink bottled vodka beverage begins limited distribution today, hoping to snatch sales away from wine coolers and beer.

Glacier Bay, a slightly carbonated vodka and fruit juice drink, touts itself as "vodka in a new way." At 5.9% alcohol, it has about the same kick as beer but has a taste similar to fruit-flavor soda. It comes in lemonade, orange, or cranberry/grapefruit varieties.

Glacier Bay claims it's the country's only single-serve, ready-to-drink beverage made with vodka, the No. 1 distilled spirit. Four-packs of the 12.7-ounce bottles will retail from $5.99 to $7.99, depending on state and local taxes.

Glacier Bay Beverages President Jason Kane predicted his product will appeal to males as well as women, unlike wine coolers typically shunned by males. He said Glacier Bay's milder taste does not overwhelm drinkers with alcohol.

APPEAL TO BOTH SEXES

"This is a female and male product because it has vodka," he said. "But a lot of people don't like [vodka] straight -- it's too strong, too heavy. People are drinking lighter, but they want full taste. They want something that really refreshes."

Mr. Kane said low-alcohol premixed vodka drinks are available abroad. Those sold domestically, are mainly multiple-serve and contain about 20% alcohol, more than triple Glacier Bay's 6.5%.

They also often are mixed with non-alcoholic beverages, said Keith Thomas, president of KRT Marketing, Lafayette, Calif., which handles Glacier Bay advertising.

The product initially will be marketed in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Nevada. Hawaii and the Virgin Islands will be added by the end of November, Mr. Thomas said, adding that he's aiming for national distribution by September 2000.

Glacier Bay, which has an ad budget of $2.5 million to $5 million for its first year, will run ads in trade and local publications as well as use outdoor and transit advertising, Mr. Thomas said. He said the ad budget could reach $10 million its next year.

ABSOLUT DEMAND?

Frank Walters, editor of industry newsletter Impact, said Glacier Bay could become as popular as wine coolers and other low-alcohol drinks.

He said demand could take off as happened with Absolut, which sold fewer than 1 million cases in the late 1970s but now leads the superpremium import sector, galvanizing the entire vodka category.

Glacier Bay is blended and bottled by Bronco Wine Co., which bottles Seagram's

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