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With Bourbon On A Tear, Category Leaders Post Solid Gains

March 30, 2017

Bourbon surpassed 20 million nine-liter cases in the U.S. for the first time in 30 years in 2016, and while a host of super-premium contenders are injecting dynamism, the category’s biggest players are also contributing solid progress. Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s, Beam Suntory’s Jim Beam and Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams—the market’s three largest Bourbon brands by volume, respectively—have all been in expansion mode, bolstered by upscale innovation efforts and forays into the flavor segment.

From a base of nearly 5.2 million cases, the Jack Daniel’s franchise continues to climb, tacking on 2.3% volume growth in the U.S. last year, excluding flavors and upscale offshoots Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel, which have been on a steep rise. Late last year, the brand unveiled a limited edition Jack Daniel’s 150th anniversary whiskey ($100 a 1-liter bottle). This fall, Jack Daniel’s is looking to further innovate with its upcoming rollout of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye.

In the flavor arena, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire have slowed some, but together the pair still account for more than 1 million cases. “Honey is showing growth this year and Tennessee Fire is holding its own against its launch year,” says Mike Keyes, Brown-Forman’s president, North America. “We’re seeing these expressions bring new friends to Jack, including women, Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans.”

Jim Beam also continues to rise, surpassing 3.3 million cases on 4% growth in the U.S. last year, excluding flavors. The brand has been boosted by the core Jim Beam White, Jim Beam Black and Rye expressions, as well as a strong start for its premium Double Oak entry, which rolled out last fall. Those solid performances helped offset a decline for the high-proof Devil’s Cut extension, which fell 20% last year. Jim Beam’s flavored portfolio, meanwhile, accounts for roughly 20% of its total business, with its Apple offering more than doubling to 320,000 cases in 2016, its second year on the market.

Evan Williams is thriving in Bourbon’s under-$20 segment, rising 10% to nearly 2.4 million cases in 2016. Like Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam, Evan Williams has ramped up its innovation efforts of late, adding a Peach expression to its flavored range—which also comprises Honey, Cherry and Fire offerings—in 2015, and releasing a special “American Hero” edition of its core Evan Williams Black Bourbon to honor military veterans last year. —Christina Jelski

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