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The so-called vodka war of 1994 proved an absolute boon to Absolut: Its shares led the surge in imported vodka, which unlike domestic vodka, grew for the year.

The jousting began in February '94 when Seagram Beverage Co. wrested Absolut from Grand Metropolitan's Carillon Importers. Carillon then took over one-time import king Stolichnaya from defunct Monsieur Henri Importers.

Seagram decreased the number of Absolut distributors, expanded into smaller markets and heavied up on media advertising via agency TBWA Advertising (which had retained the brand), point-of-purchase and event marketing. The import segment subsequently rose 4% in case depletions while overall vodka volume dropped 1.5% as the distilled spirits industry slipped 1.8%, according to Frank Walters, research director at Impact, an industry newsletter.

Absolut advanced 4.5% in case depletions, rising 0.5 points in market share. It has continued at a 6% growth clip, abetted by extensions including Absolut Citron and Absolut Currant, claims Arthur Shapiro, exec VP-marketing.

Stolichnaya declined nearly 3% in volume though its share remained at 2.9%. Carillon President Michael Roux claims the numbers are turning around with new advertising from Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners.

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