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Control States Outpace U.S. Spirits Market, Thanks To Flavor Craze, Whiskies

May 3, 2013

Control states represent less than a third of U.S. spirits consumption, but they’re at the forefront in terms of market trends, which include a thirst for flavored spirits and a renaissance for whiskies.

“Certainly in flavored vodka, we’re seeing an increase in sales, innovation and selection,” says Neal Insley, chairman of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. “We’re also seeing growth in some whisk(e)y segments.”

Control states advanced by an aggregate 3.6% to 46 million cases in 2012, according to Impact Databank. The control states outpaced the overall U.S. market, and, as such, their license state counterparts. This solid progress occurred even as Smirnoff, Bacardi and Captain Morgan—the top three sellers both in control states and in license states—eked out only modest progress (a collective 1%) across the 17 U.S. control states in 2012.

The best performers among the control states’ top 10 spirits brands were two brands that have ridden the flavor craze as aggressively as any others: Burnett’s and Pinnacle. Pinnacle, which Beam Inc. acquired from White Rock Distilleries in April 2012, enjoyed an 8.1% increase to 891,000 cases, while Burnett’s carved out a 7% advance to 1.12 million cases. Last year, Burnett’s did more than half its sales in control states. All the U.S. market’s other top 25 spirits brands did less than 40% of their business in the control state channel.

While the control states’ standout players are vodkas, the leading whisk(e)y brands are also very well represented. In fact, while only two whisk(e)y entries rank among the U.S. market’s top 10 spirits brands—Jack Daniel’s and Crown Royal—in control states, those two are joined by Jim Beam and Black Velvet among the channel’s top sellers.

Control state operators are responding to the positive sales trends by beefing up selection in their stores. In Iowa, the Alcoholic Beverages Division has increased its spirits SKUs to about 1,500, from about 1,200 previously. “It’s mainly driven by the flavors that are out there,” says Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division administrator Stephen Larson, noting that most of the main spirits types have flavor components. “Those offerings have brought new customers. We’ve seen a paradigm shift with female consumers, who are switching from beer to the flavored spirits.”


US – Top 10 Distilled Spirit Brands in Control States
(thousands of nine-liter cases)
Rank Brand Company Type 2011 2012 Percent
Market Share1
Market Share1
1 Smirnoff2 Diageo North America Vodka 2,034 2,077 2.1% 4.6% 4.5%
2 Bacardi2 Bacardi USA, Inc. Rum 1,668 1,663 -0.3 3.8 3.6
3 Captain Morgan2 Diageo North America Rum 1,570 1,589 1.2 3.5 3.5
4 Absolut2 Pernod Ricard USA Vodka 1,083 1,122 3.6 2.4 2.4
5 Burnett’s2 Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. Vodka 1,042 1,115 7.0 2.3 2.4
Total Top 5 7,397 7,566 2.3 16.6 16.4
6 Jack Daniel’s3 Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide Tennessee Whiskey 1,025 1,058 3.2 2.3 2.3
7 Crown Royal Diageo North America Canadian Whisky 874 908 4.0 2.0 2.0
8 Pinnacle2 Beam Inc. Vodka 824 891 8.1 1.9 1.9
9 Jim Beam Beam Inc. Bourbon 766 767 0.1 1.7 1.7
10 Black Velvet Constellation Brands Canadian Whisky 720 760 5.5 1.6 1.7
Total Top 10 11,607 11,950 3.0 26.1 26.0
Other Brands 32,840 34,086 3.8 73.9 74.0
Total Control States4,5 44,447 46,035 3.6% 100.0% 100.0%
1 based on unrounded data
2 includes flavors
3 excludes Single Barrel, Gentleman Jack and Tennessee Honey
4 addition of columns may not agree due to rounding
5 excludes Washington state


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