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Bourbon-Based Liqueurs Thrive, As Innovation Expands Audience

December 14, 2011

The liqueurs category has struggled in the U.S. market amid the challenging economic environment, as none of the top 10 selling brands have posted volume growth over the past two years. But one particular product area has been attracting new consumers and is rapidly expanding: Bourbon-based liqueurs. This burgeoning segment has reached new heights this year and is poised for a strong holiday selling season.

Bourbon liqueur standouts include Wild Turkey American Honey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Evan Williams Honey and Evan Williams Cherry Reserve. All four products are at around 70 proof and sell at the premium-plus range ($15-$22 a 750-ml.). They’ve become a bridge to their parent brands while generating solid followings of their own. “These new products are making the entire category of brown spirits and Bourbon appealing to a whole different target audience—whether they’re just drinking them straight, as a shot or mixing them,” says Kate Latts, director of marketing at Heaven Hill Distilleries, owner of Evan Williams.

Wild Turkey American Honey, launched in 2006, is a pioneer in the Bourbon-based liqueur segment. While it appeared to be little more than a footnote when Campari acquired Wild Turkey from Pernod Ricard in 2009, American Honey was already doing well, and its impressive performance has continued. In 2010, American Honey rose by 37.7% in the U.S. to 179,000 cases, winning an Impact “Hot Prospect” award. The brand’s growth has continued this year. For the first 10 months of 2011, American Honey’s sales were up by 33.3% to more than 48,000 cases in control states, according to NABCA.

American Honey’s competitors are also enjoying big gains. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, launched in March 2011, sold more than 38,000 cases in control states in its first eight months on the market. Evan Williams Honey Reserve, released in late 2009, this year showed a 67% jump in control states to roughly 17,500 cases in the first 10 months of 2011. (The brand sold 55,000 cases in the total U.S. market in 2010, according to Impact Databank.) Evan Williams Cherry Reserve, rolled out in 2010, is also on the rise, having sold more than 6,000 cases in control states in the first 10 months of the year.

All these liqueur brands have one rival in their sights: Jim Beam Red Stag. Although the 80-proof, cherry-flavored Red Stag is classified as a Bourbon, its demographics and positioning are similar to those of Bourbon liqueurs. And the white-hot Red Stag shows no sign of slowing down. Beam projects Red Stag sales of 250,000 cases for this year, following 2010’s expansion to 190,000 cases. But the success of Bourbon-based liqueur rivals—particularly Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey—proves that competition is indeed heating up.


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