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Canadian Whisky At Forefront Of Brown Spirits Flavor Surge

November 21, 2013

In the summer of 2012, Constellation’s Black Velvet Canadian whisky brand went out on a limb and introduced a flavor nobody else offered—Toasted Caramel. The extension helped make Black Velvet the category’s growth star last year, as the total brand rose by 5% to 2 million cases. In July of this year, Constellation added another flavor, Cinnamon Rush, and Constellation says more flavored line extensions are on the way. Both new flavors retail at $12.50, compared to $10 for the core Black Velvet brand.

Last November, Diageo North America introduced Crown Royal Maple Finished ($25) and has seen sales surpass expectations. Brown-Forman early this summer added the 70-proof Maple Mist and Cinnamon flavor extensions (both $12) to its Canadian Mist brand ($12). In late summer came Peach and Vanilla expressions ($12), also at 70 proof.

“The marketplace is demanding more differentiation, and that’s what flavors provide,” says Brown-Forman senior brand manager Pedro Berrueco. He adds that the company is treading carefully, selling the new flavors only to select markets in a mostly mid-country swath from Louisiana to Michigan, as well as Oklahoma and Virginia. “By May 2014, we could be ready to expand to other markets,” Berrueco says.

Cinnamon clearly is the most common component in the Canadian flavor surge. A year ago Phillips Distilling Co. was posting annual sales of around 20,000 cases for the Phillips Union Canadian whisky brand and its Cherry and Vanilla expressions. In January of this year, it introduced Phillips Union Hot Stuff ($20), a cinnamon flavor, and sales tripled almost overnight. “Cinnamon reaches a broader age demographic—people from 21-31 like to use it for shots,” says Phillips vice president of sales Jeff Feist. In January, Phillips will introduce a Roasted Pecan expression, and it plans a ginger-flavored extension for next summer.

The Spicebox Canadian whisky brand ($20), owned by Montreal-based Kruger Wine & Spirits, offers vanilla and clove scents in an all-rye mashbill. A second expression called Spicebox Cinnamon ($20) is also on the market, and a new rollout this fall is Spicebox Pumpkin ($20) with a 100% rye base. “The cinnamon flavor is popular for shots, and pumpkin makes a nice seasonal for cocktails,” says Kruger vice president of marketing Karen Maley.

“Because it’s so light, Canadian is the best whisky for adding flavors,” says Feist. “Flavors also draw women to whisky. Everything in this category is being driven by innovation right now.”

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