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Top Whisk(e)y Brands Make Big Gains In 2016, Sparked By Innovation

January 12, 2017

The U.S. market’s top-selling whisk(e)y brands were all solidly on the rise in 2016. 

Jack Daniel’s (+2.4%), Crown Royal (+6%), Jim Beam (+6.2%), Jameson (+15.5%) and Evan Williams (+6.5%) collectively grew by well more than 1 million cases, accounting for more than 20% of the U.S. spirits market’s overall growth, according to Impact Databank.

This impressive performance extended an upswing enjoyed by those five brands since 2010. In that year, their aggregate U.S. volume was 14 million cases. By 2016, it had surged by more than 50%, to nearly 22 million cases.

The flavored whisk(e)y segment has been a growth engine for nearly all of these brands, with the exception of Jameson—although the Irish whiskey brand has also embraced innovation. Flavored whisk(e)y grew by 26.5% to 9.2 million cases in 2015, according to Impact Databank, and likely recorded another double-digit advance in 2016. In the 52 weeks ending December 3, 2016, flavored whisk(e)y was up by 11.6% to 3.3 million cases in Nielsen channels, while non-flavored whisk(e)y increased by 3.1% to 22.2 million cases.

Flavored whiskies have provided marketers with added flexibility and a valuable innovation platform. If a flavor either doesn’t catch on or it loses momentum, the parent brands have proven adept at replacing them and/or adding new offerings.

Crown Royal’s initial attempt in the flavored whisk(e)y segment—Maple—quickly fizzled after a fast start in 2012. But Diageo soon followed with Crown Royal Regal Apple, an instant hit that’s still growing fast. Regal Apple sold more than 1 million cases in 2015—its first full year on the market—and considerably improved upon that performance in 2016. Late last year, Crown Royal was extended again with Crown Royal Vanilla, which has also started off strong. Vanilla sold more than 150,000 cases in 2016—after being on the market for only a few months.

Of course, flavored whisk(e)y’s biggest seller stands on its own. Sazerac Co.’s Fireball achieved a meteoric rise from 2010 to 2015. While the Canadian whisky-infused Fireball’s rise has slowed to single-digits as its base has pushed past the 4-million-case mark, it remains a force. Only six spirits brands currently outsell Fireball in the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, Irish whiskey leader Jameson ($26) is doing just fine without flavors. Jameson’s remarkable rise continued last year with a 15.5% advance to 2.8 million cases. Pernod Ricard has been actively innovating with new releases to stoke further progress. “We launched Jameson Caskmates (aged in craft beer barrels) in 2015, and it’s been very well received,” Sona Bajaria, vice president, high end Irish whiskey, Pernod Ricard USA, told SND last fall. “Caskmates ($30) is riding the craft beer trend. And in 2016 we launched Jameson Cooper’s Croze ($70) at the higher end of the category.” —Peter Zwiebach

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