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Irish Whiskey’s Rapid Rise Slows Slightly, But Upside Abounds For Jameson, Category

September 21, 2015

After nearly three decades of relatively quiet and slow progress, Irish whiskey has emerged as one of the fastest-growing premium spirits categories in the world, bolstered by the brown spirits boom in key markets like the U.S.

Though the segment remains relatively small in comparison to other whisk(e)y categories, recent growth trends suggest Irish whiskey has enormous upside, and industry players are taking note. Over the past several years, the Irish whiskey category has seen an unprecedented level of investment and development, with many of its leading brands putting heavy focus on growing production capacity and prepping for future demand. Innovation has also been key, with several Irish whiskey brands tapping the fast-growing flavored segment, and others carving out growth at the high end with new super-premium launches.

Still, there’s evidence that Irish whiskey’s rapid rise is slowing a bit. After averaging near-20% annual growth from 2009-2013, the category was up by 8.2% in the U.S. in 2014, according to Impact Databank. Though it was still up significantly, Jameson, Irish whiskey’s dominant leader, failed to earn the double-digit growth that had become routine for the brand, finishing the year up by 7.6% while crossing the 2-million-case threshold.

But while it looks as though Irish whiskey’s double-digit run may have come to an end, the category continues to hold unique promise. Irish whiskey has proven to be particularly adept at attracting the key young LDA and Millennial consumer demographics, giving it an edge over other whisk(e)y categories, such as Scotch. Likewise, Irish whiskey’s relatively approachable taste profile has made it easier for the segment to welcome new and entry-level whiskey drinkers into the fold.

“Despite the growth of other whisk(e)y segments, Irish whiskey continues to be (fast-growing), and the typical Irish whiskey consumer tends to skew slightly younger than your average Scotch consumer,” explains Cindy Wang, senior brand manager for William Grant & Sons’ Tullamore Dew, which jumped by 21.8% to 147,000 cases in the U.S. last year. “(Irish whiskey appeals to) someone who is looking to expand his or her palate and knowledge beyond the beverages they were acquainted with towards the end of college or upon first entering the working world.”

U.S. – Leading Irish Whiskey Brands
(thousands of nine-liter cases)
Brand Importer 2011 2012 2013 2014 Percent
Jameson Pernod Ricard USA 1,334 1,602 1,874 2,016 7.6%
Bushmills Proximo Spirits* 185 210 230 230
Tullamore Dew William Grant & Sons USA 78 95 120 147 21.8
2 Gingers Beam Suntory Inc 8 10 29 55 86.4
Paddy Pernod Ricard USA 16 12 19 33 73.7
Powers Pernod Ricard USA 39 42 40 28 -30.0
Redbreast Pernod Ricard USA 13 17 17 19 11.8
Total Leading Brands 1,673 1,988 2,330 2,527 8.5%
*acquired from Diageo in 2014Source: IMPACT DATABANK
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