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Banking On Mixology Trend, Italian Bitters Proliferate In U.S.

March 5, 2015

After years of stagnant growth, the Italian bitters-liqueurs category is now blossoming in the U.S. market, driven by current mixology trends and maturing consumer palates. While Gruppo Campari leads the category with its namesake bitter brand—which has seen strong growth recently—a host of other players are also bullish on the category, with new product activity intensifying lately.

New York-based Domaine Select Wine Estates (DSWE) is looking to steal share in the bitters segment with its nationwide rollout of Amaro Lucano, a super-premium amaro produced in Basilicata, Italy. Initially launched into select U.S. markets three years ago, the Italian brand will begin expanding distribution into all 50 states this year and, according to DSWE founder and CEO Paolo Domeneghetti, is projected to sell around 10,000 cases in 2015. Lucano (56 proof) fills a gap in DSWE’s portfolio left by Averna, Italy’s second-largest bitter brand, whose parent company Fratelli Averna was acquired by Gruppo Campari last April. Priced in line with Averna at roughly $30 a 750-ml., Amaro Lucano is targeted toward specialty retailers and cocktail bars. Additionally, Amaro Lucano Anniversario, retailing approximately 25% above the core offering, is set to debut later this year.

Meanwhile, the Averna brand (58 proof) moved to the Campari America portfolio last month, joined by another herb-based, Averna-produced bitter, Braulio (42 proof), which retails at around $35 a 750-ml. In announcing the shift, Campari America head of marketing Umberto Luchini said he expects the two brands to share in the gains being made by the group’s existing Italian liqueur stable of Campari, Aperol, Cynar and Frangelico. Buoyed by its part in the Negroni cocktail, the Campari brand has grown by more than one-third in the U.S. market over the past three years, and is now approaching 100,000 cases.

One of the bitters segment’s standout global players, Fernet Branca (78 proof, $29)—which rose 10% to 6.1 million cases globally last year—is also on the rise in the U.S., where it’s imported by Infinium Spirits. “In the last four or five years Fernet Branca has been growing consistently in the U.S.,” says chairman and CEO Niccolò Branca. “We’re promoting it mostly as a shot but also in cocktails.” Fernet Branca has long counted San Francisco—where it’s often consumed as a shot with a ginger ale chaser—as its biggest U.S. market, but the brand is also making gains in areas like New York, Los Angeles, Texas, Nevada and Florida.

Renewed interest from the mixology set in amari and Italian bitters in general has led to an influx of new competitors lately. Last August, Italian wine importer Vias Imports introduced Amaro Sibona (56 proof, $30 a 1-liter), and a month earlier, Blackheath Beverage Group added Fernet Vittone (80 proof) and Amaro Del Sole (60 proof) to its stable. Also active in the segment are San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling with Luxardo Amaro Abano (60 proof) and South Carolina’s Total Beverage Solutions, which welcomed Amaro Montenegro (46 proof) to its fold in 2013.


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