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Moonshine’s Growth Slows, But Key Brands Stick To Their Guns

September 3, 2015

Moonshine, one of the most vibrant spirits growth segments of recent years, has seen its momentum ease lately, prompting some players to leave the category. But established moonshine brands like Ole Smoky and Midnight Moon are refining their images and redoubling their efforts, with a specific on-premise focus.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee-based Ole Smoky—with a flavor line including Apple Pie, Cherries, Blackberry and White Lightnin’—has been targeting menu placements in national on-premise accounts. Currently, Ole Smoky does less than 10% of its business on-premise. Overall, the brand rose 12.5% to 270,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank, after doubling in volume in 2013.

“We’re aligning the SKUs that we want to build in the off-premise, such as our 80-proof Hunch Punch, with cocktail/shot menu programs for the on-premise,” says Ole Smoky CEO John Cochran. Logan’s Roadhouse has been a stalwart national account for Ole Smoky, and the brand also has been featured at Outback Steakhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooters, as well as some regional accounts. While Cochran acknowledges the challenging conditions, he says Ole Smoky is responding with a new marketing and rebranding campaign aimed at Millennials.

After reaching 320,000 cases in 2013 and earning Impact “Hot Brand” honors, Piedmont Distillers’ Junior Johnson Midnight Moon has seen declining volume. Last year, the brand dropped nearly 22% to 250,000 cases, attributed to distributor and retail overstocking during the explosive growth years, as well as increased competition.

Like Ole Smoky, Midnight Moon is aggressively courting the on-premise, particularly with its Apple Pie expression. “We believe moonshine will follow the course of most hyper-explosive spirits category trends,” says Piedmont Distillers founder and president Joe Michalek. “There will be a settling of volume and a shakeout of brands and SKUs that don’t have a core buyer base, or a strong brand identity positioned for long-term stability.”

Moonshine’s current challenges have led some players—such as Beam Suntory, Stillhouse and Death’s Door—to reduce or suspend entirely their efforts in the category, but others still see potential in white whiskey. In July, Bacardi debuted a new Tennessee white corn whiskey, Bonnie Rose, with a pair of 35%-abv fruit-flavored entries, Orange Peel and Spiced Apple ($19 a bottle). Following an initial launch in Nashville, Bacardi is eyeing a national rollout for the new brand.

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