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A St. Petersburg Vodka Fit for G8 Leaders
07.07.2006 13:03

G8_vodka By Stephen Boykewich

Staff Writer

In the ongoing debate over whether Russia deserves a place in the Group of Eight, the Kremlin has focused on what Russia can bring to the table: resource riches, fiscal health and experience fighting terrorism.

With the summit just a week away, a Russian company has found something else to bring to the table: G8 vodka.

“It was astonishing to me that no one had thought of this, despite all the marketing experts in the West and our own in Russia,” said Maxim Chernigovsky, business development director at Dionis, a St. Petersburg vodka distillery.

“This” was a bottle of vodka labeled “Spetszakaz: G8,” or “Special Order: G8,” that Chernigovsky proudly held up during a recent interview. With a jumble of official-looking stamps, including a number unique to each bottle and the announcement “By Order of the Foreign Ministry for the G8,” you might think the vodka is the official alcoholic beverage of Russia’s G8 presidency. That is just what Dionis wants you to think.

“Notice that it doesn’t say ‘Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation’ or of any other country. We’re simply expressing our esteem for all foreign ministries, for the institution as a whole,” Chernigovsky said, beaming. “We also discovered that no one had registered the trademark ‘G8’ since it isn’t an official name for the group.

“We have a very good legal department,” he added.

The G8 vodka, which hit store shelves and restaurants in St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad region in late May, was the product of years of market research by Dionis into short-term — or what Chernigovsky termed “subjective” — branding.

The brand apparently appealed to the owners of the St. Petersburg restaurant Blow Up — which Chernigovsky, probably not accidentally, picked for the interview. The restaurant, situated across from Kazan Cathedral, has cooked up two cocktails using the G8 vodka.

The first, “The Summit,” combines the vodka with two carefully poured layers of red and blue liquor to resemble the Russian tricolor. “Summit 2” is an intimidating blend of eight liquors, each of which represents a member nation of the G8.

Whether or not they make it to Blow Up, foreign delegations will be presented with bottles of the vodka, Chernigovsky said — though they won’t be drinking it at official events.

Summit organizers told Dionis they had chosen and ordered their official beverages before April, when the company first made its pitch.

One million liters of those beverages will be coming from Wimm-Bill-Dann, the country’s top juice and dairy producer.

The company will be packaging juice and mineral water under a G8 logo that resembles its J7 brand of juices.

Company spokeswoman Eleonora Chernetskaya downplayed the repackaging and refused to disclose what it would cost the company. “This is a one-time shipment, not a massive PR campaign,” she said.

But she did concede that the G8 juices were bound to make it onto television screens worldwide, as the world media zoom in on the summit.

“It’s a smart move,” said Alexei Petrenko, head of ratings agency Superbrand Russia. The G8 logo will remind consumers of J7, he said.

He expressed far more skepticism about the vodka. “I can only think of it as a gag,” he said.

While the distiller does hope the vodka finds a wider audience after the July 15-17 summit, when the drink will hit shelves throughout Russia and possibly abroad, Chernigovsky stressed that the project had never been taken too seriously. As proof, he pointed to the tongue-in-cheek touches on the bottle’s label, including a signature by the fictitious “People’s Commissar V.O. Bespokhmelnykh” — a name roughly translatable as “Hangover-Proof.”

“The G8 is not just an official event, it’s also a celebration. I truly believe that,” Chernigovsky said. “And what’s a celebration without a good drink?”

News source: times.spb.ru
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