- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Russia's national drink is suffering from an image problem on its home turf.
Young people are drinking less vodka and more beer as health considerations, better brews and good marketing are reordering the domestic market.
That means that Russians, this year for the first time, are on a pace to spend more on beer than on vodka, according to market-research firms.
"It's definitely going to happen," said Vicky Darwin, marketing director at Concise Business to Business Information, an England-based market-information and -analysis group.
It's a big change in the country that says it invented vodka. (Poland also claims the honor.) The very word stems from "voda," Russian for water. (In Polish, it's "woda.")
"Vodka is Russia's national drink. It is drunk in quantities that amaze and horrify many visitors to Russia," says an analysis published last year by Euromonitor International, a global research company.
But vodka has been steadily losing sales. And the trend away from low-quality cheap vodka, which makes up the bulk of alcohol sales, is expected to continue even as Russians continue to drink more, Euromonitor says.
Russia consumes more units of alcohol per capita than any other nation on earth, according to Euromonitor, and alcoholism rates are troublingly high, health organizations say.
Russians now drink more beer, by volume, than vodka, and Euromonitor sales projections show beer consumption rising 7.4 percent per year from 2002 to 2007, while vodka falls 2.3 percent.
The bubbling beer market has been developing since the mid-1990s as breweries, allowed to compete in a capitalist market, accepted investment, improved quality and advertised.
A financial crisis in 1998 the ruble crashed and prices on imported goods rose 400 percent hurt beer companies because they import hops and other important components, but sales quickly recovered.
"Today, they are using the smoothness, the taste and variety of beers, and that is making them very popular," said Dima Rahimov, a manager at Russian Gourmet, a McLean store specializing in Eastern European products. "But I wouldn't say vodka will go away. Vodka has its own way and clients."
Vodka is the most popular spirit category in the United States, accounting for about one of every five bottles of distilled spirits sold, according to industry sources.
But beer is still the most popular alcoholic drink; Americans drink more than 22 gallons per person per year of it, and just more than 1 gallon of distilled spirits, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.


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