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Canadian Whisky’s Top Players Take Share, Boosted By Flavored Offerings

April 28, 2014

Canadian whisky has been slowly yet steadily picking up steam in the U.S. market, accelerating from 0.2% growth in 2012 to 1.0% in 2013, according to Impact Databank. Bolstered by the category’s burgeoning flavored segment, the top five Canadian whisky brands together crossed 10 million cases last year with aggregate growth of 1.5%, increasing their share of the U.S. category to 68.3%. The inclusion of 2013 Impact “Hot Brand” Fireball, Sazerac’s Canadian whisky-based liqueur, caused the category to rise by 13% in Nielsen channels last year.

Diageo North America’s Crown Royal remains the biggest Canadian whisky brand in the U.S., with a market share just under 30%. The brand reached 4.33 million cases on 2.5% growth in 2013. Crown Royal’s marketing has centered on its “Reign On” campaign, launched in early 2013, and its flavored Maple Finished and higher-end expressions have been driving sales. Introduced in late 2012, Maple Finished more than doubled its case depletions in control states to about 50,000 for 2013. Diageo continues to pursue the premiumization trend with new releases such as Crown Royal XO, launched earlier this year at $49.99 a 750-ml.

Constellation’s Black Velvet achieved the highest growth rate among the leading Canadian whiskies in the U.S. last year, passing 2 million cases on a rise of 3.6%. Flavor extensions Toasted Caramel ($12.50) and Cinnamon Rush helped drive that performance, and Constellation says it may pursue more flavored offerings down the road. In NABCA markets, the flavored expressions together grew nearly fivefold to 33,200 cases in 2013. “The biggest source of competition are whiskies within our competitive price point, regardless of their origin,” says Diana Pawlik, Constellation’s vice president of spirits and global imports. “As flavored whiskies become more prevalent, we’re seeing crossover with other flavored spirits as well.”

In line with the general upturn, Beam Inc.’s Canadian Club and Windsor Supreme also gained ground last year, as Windsor grew 1.0% to 930,000 cases and Canadian Club rose 1.7% to 1.2 million cases. In September 2012, Beam launched Dock No. 57 Blackberry ($14.99) as a flavor extension under Canadian Club, while Windsor is present in flavors with Windsor Spiced and Windsor Black Cherry (both $8). Among Canadian whisky’s category leaders, only Brown-Forman’s Canadian Mist declined in 2013, slipping 3.3% to 1.54 million cases. Seeking to reverse that trend, the brand recently entered the flavor segment, debuting Peach, Cinnamon, Maple and Vanilla variants in 14 markets last summer with more states expected to be added this year.

Meanwhile, some smaller Canadian whisky brands have been enjoying significant volume gains. Pernod Ricard USA’s Wiser’s (long one of Canada’s top-selling spirits brands) grew by 19% last year to reach 72,000 cases, while Hood River Distillers’ Pendleton is now above 150,000 cases. The opportunity evident in the category is now attracting new investors. Last month, Campari agreed to acquire Canada’s Forty Creek Distillery, whose namesake super-premium whisky has enjoyed promising growth from a small base in the U.S., for $168 million.

Top Five Canadian Whisky Brands in the U.S.
(millions of nine-liter case depletions)
Percent Change3
Rank Brand1 Importer 2011 2012 2013 2011-2012 2012-2013
1 Crown Royal Diageo North America 4.18 4.22 4.33 1.0% 2.5%
2 Black Velvet Constellation Brands 1.85 1.94 2.02 5.1 3.6
3 Canadian Mist Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide 1.63 1.59 1.54 -2.4 -3.3
4 Canadian Club Beam Inc (Suntory) 1.18 1.18 1.20 -0.7 1.7
5 Windsor Supreme Beam Inc (Suntory) 0.92 0.92 0.93 -0.2 1.0
Total Top Five2 9.78 9.86 10.01 0.9% 1.5%
1 includes flavors
2 addition of columns may not agree due to rounding
3 based on unrounded dataSource: IMPACT DATABANK
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