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Cocktails, Connoisseurship Propel U.S. Market’s Fastest Growing Whiskies

September 19, 2011

For all the success surrounding vodka over the past decade, many of the spirits industry’s best-performing brands right now are whiskies. Of the 10 fastest-rising whisk(e)y brands in the market, three are Bourbons—a category benefiting from the cocktail craze given its sweeter taste profile than most other whisk(e)y types. “The rise in crafted Bourbon cocktails is easing younger consumers—those in the ages 21-29 segment—into the category,” Laura Petry, senior brand manager for Woodford Reserve, recently told Shanken News Daily.

Woodford has been a model of consistent progress over the past half-decade, rising a steady 10,000 cases each year from 2006 through 2009 before advancing by 12,000 cases last year. Growth has continued in all 50 states this year. Woodford Reserve competitor Bulleit has stayed under the radar within the Diageo North America portfolio, but it too has gained traction despite the economic downturn, nearly doubling in volume from 2007 through 2010. Bulleit is expected to approach the 100,000-case mark this year.

Fellow Bourbon Maker’s Mark has long been the envy of its competitors. As the super-premium label nears 1 million cases this year, owner Beam Inc. has sought to take its exposure to a higher level, rolling out the first-ever Maker’s Mark television campaign earlier this year. While Maker’s continues to thrive on strong branding and premium credentials, upstart portfoliomate Red Stag has capitalized on the flavored spirits trend engulfing the market, especially among younger consumers. “From a category perspective, 15% of all volume growth in 2010 can be attributed to Red Stag,” says Rob Mason, Beam’s director of U.S. Bourbon. “For 2011, its third year on shelves, we expect it to finish north of a quarter-million cases.”

Meanwhile, the growing trend toward trial and connoisseurship among U.S. Scotch drinkers has led to solid returns for numerous brands within the single malt segment, notably Pernod Ricard’s The Glenlivet, William Grant & Sons’ The Balvenie and Moët Hennessy’s Glenmorangie. The Glenlivet’s success has demonstrated Pernod’s penchant for premiumization even amid the lackluster economy. Despite holding flat between the crisis years of 2008–09, The Glenlivet malt averaged 5% annual growth between 2006 and 2010 and now appears to be accelerating.

The Balvenie is around half the size of single malt portfoliomate The Glenfiddich, but it has continued to climb right through the recession. The Glenfiddich, meanwhile, has seen some ups and downs in recent years and is still a few thousand cases shy of its 2004 high-water mark of 110,000 cases, though it did show 7% growth last year. “Premiumization and connoisseurship are two key trends driving particularly value growth in the single malt category,” says Maurice Doyle, group marketing director at William Grant & Sons Ltd. Moet-Hennessy’s Glenmorangie has also been among single malt’s most vibrant brands of late, having grown 41% by volume over the past two years. Glenmorangie now looks likely to become one of the U.S. market’s top five single malts by year-end.

Only one blended Scotch, Diageo’s Buchanan’s, cracked the top 10 fastest-rising whiskies by percentage growth (although Johnnie Walker, up 31,000 cases last year, wasn’t far behind Buchanan’s 43,000-case rise on an incremental basis). Buchanan’s U.S. net sales rose 41% in Diageo’s fiscal year through June, as the group said it “rapidly expanded distribution to reach more of Buchanan’s core multi-cultural consumers.”

The fastest-growing whisk(e)y in the U.S., and one of the fastest-growing spirits brands overall, remains Pernod’s on-premise stalwart Jameson, whose sales advanced by 29% in the first half of 2011, with double-digit growth in all 50 states. Lower-priced portfoliomate Powers may not have the large-scale following of Jameson, but it has quietly churned out growth every year since 2000, more than doubling in size in that period. Pernod has lately attempted to premiumize Powers, unveiling a 12-year-old Special Reserve in late 2009 and an ultra-premium Powers John’s Lane single pot still offering this past spring. Those efforts to cultivate connoisseurship and trade consumers up are targeted at the on-premise, where Jameson is often consumed in shot form.

USA – 10 Fastest-Growing Whiskies*
(thousands of nine-liter case depletions)
Brand Company Type 2009 2010 Percent
Jameson Pernod Ricard USA Irish 815 1,037 27%
Makers Mark Beam Global Spirits & Wine Bourbon 805 915 14%
The Glenlivet Pernod Ricard USA Single-Malt 286 309 8%
Buchanan’s Diageo North America Scotch 159 202 27%
Red Stag Beam Global Spirits & Wine Bourbon 85 191 125%
Woodford Reserve Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide Bourbon 115 127 10%
Bulleit Diageo North America Bourbon 72 85 18%
The Balvenie William Grant & Sons USA Single-Malt 50 55 10%
Glenmorangie Moet-Hennessy USA Single-Malt 43 52 21%
Power’s Pernod Ricard USA Irish 32 35 9%
Total Top Ten 2,462 3,008 22%
*based on 2009-2010 percent change, but ranked by 2010 depletions (25,000 cases minimum) 


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