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After Years Of Decline, Canadian Whisky Is Holding Its Ground In 2016

November 28, 2016

For many years—from the early 1990s through 2010—Canadian whisky was a two-faceted category. One side was characterized by a cluster of big-volume brands that were mired in long-term slumps as American tastes shifted to white spirits. On the other side was a single brand—category leader Crown Royal—that defied Canadian whisky’s downward trend by achieving one of the strongest growth curves in industry history.

In recent years, a new dichotomy has emerged. On one side are the core, non-flavored Canadian whisky brands, all struggling to add volume. On the other side are flavored Canadian whiskies, which are showing torrid growth.

Excluding flavors, Canadian whisky is at nearly 14 million cases in the U.S. market—not all that far off from Bourbon, whose volume stands at just under 19 million cases. Non-flavored Canadian whisky far outstrips Scotch (7.6 million cases) and Irish whiskey (3 million cases). Flavored Canadian whiskies, meanwhile, account for an additional 6 million cases in total, and grew by about 30% last year.

The flavored segment has been on fire over the past several years, led by Fireball (up 11% in 2015 to 4.4 million cases) and Crown Royal Regal Apple (up nearly a million cases to hit 1.25 million cases). The top five flavored Canadian whisky labels, which also include smaller players Black Velvet Toasted Caramel, Crown Royal Maple and Piehole, posted aggregate growth of 32% last year, to 5.8 million cases.

Those trends are continuing this year. In control state and Nielsen channels, Fireball and Regal Apple have pushed the Canadian whisky category into growth. Canadian whisky was up by 2.2% in control states through the first nine months of 2016 while enjoying a 3.2% gain in Nielsen channels for the 52 weeks ending November 5. With flavors removed from the equation, however, Canadian whisky’s increases are essentially wiped out.

Still, the fact that Canadian whisky is finally stable is a positive indicator for a category whose annual U.S. sales have eroded by around 1 million cases since 2010 and was mired in long-term decline well before then.

U.S. – Top Five Canadian Whisky Brand Families1
(millions of nine-liter case depletions)
Rank Brand Family1 Importer 2014 2015 Percent
1 Crown Royal Diageo North America 4.4 5.2 18.0%
2 Fireball Sazerac Co Inc 3.9 4.4 11.0%
3 Black Velvet Constellation Brands 2.1 2.0 -1.2%
4 Canadian Mist Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide 1.5 1.4 -9.0%
5 Canadian Club Beam Suntory Inc 1.2 1.2 3.5%
Total Top Five 13.1 14.2 8.5%
Other Brand Families 5.6 5.5 -3.0%
Total Canadian Whisky1, 2 18.7 19.7 5.0%
1 includes flavors and rye
2 addition of columns may not agree due to rounding
3 based on unrounded data


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