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DISCUS: Whiskies Drove U.S. Spirits Growth In 2012

February 6, 2013

At a presentation to journalists and analysts in New York today, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) said the ongoing whisk(e)y renaissance and consumer trading up led to a 4.5% rise in spirits supplier revenues in the U.S. market last year, to $21.3 billion. Spirits shipment volume across the U.S. market was up 3% to 202 million cases, the group said, as the spirits category’s revenue share of the beverage alcohol sector rose for the third straight year, to 34.3%, taking share from both beer and wine. By volume, spirits accounted for 31.9% of the beverage alcohol market last year.

“We’re still below our volume share peak of 41%, achieved in the early 1970s,” said DISCUS president and CEO Peter Cressy, “so we believe there’s still ample room to grow.”

Among the hottest spirits categories in 2012 were whiskies of all types (especially higher-end labels), vodka and anything with a flavor component. American whiskies like Bourbon and Tennessee were at the forefront, with their combined volume rising 5.2% to 16.9 million cases and the super-premium tier up 12.4%. From a small base, rye whiskies grew sharply as well, jumping 50% to 275,000 cases.

Much of the vibrancy of the American whisk(e)y category has been generated through the craft distilling movement. The ranks of U.S. craft distillers—defined as those bottling less than 100,000 gallons annually—doubled to 180 over the past two and a half years, DISCUS said.

Irish whiskey and single malt Scotch were also growth drivers in the U.S. spirits market last year, with volume surging 22.5% and 13% respectively.

The vodka category, which comprised 32% of spirits volume, increased 4% to 65 million cases in 2012, DISCUS said, with the super-premium portion of the category up 10%. Supplier revenues from vodka reached $5.5 billion.

DISCUS confirmed the strong gains that vodka and whiskies (along with rum and other categories) have made from expansion in the flavor segment. Flavored items accounted for 27% of spirits volume last year, but 46% of growth. Nearly half of all new products in the market belonged to the flavor arena.

Emphasizing the continuing importance of innovation to the industry, DISCUS noted that 41% of volume growth across the spirits category last year came from new products, which added 2.4 million cases to the industry total.

Cressy also pointed to the strength of the whisk(e)y category as a catalyst for U.S. spirits export growth. Shipments abroad were worth a record $1.5 billion last year, with American whiskies accounting for 70% of the total.


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