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Top Whiskies Extend Their Growth Streak In U.S. Market

January 18, 2018

With consumers eagerly exploring across multiple brown spirits categories, it comes as little surprise that 2017 was a strong year for the U.S. market’s major whisk(e)y brands. As the connoisseur set continues to seek out new upscale launches and limited releases, leading players like Crown Royal, Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam and others are broadening their appeal and winning new drinkers with flavored expressions.

Six whisk(e)y labels ranked among the top 25 spirits brands in the U.S. for 2017, and all of them were on the upswing, according to Impact Databank. Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s continues to lead the market at 6.46 million cases, up 3% last year, including its flavored varieties. In the six months through October, net sales for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (+6%), Tennessee Honey (+8%), Tennessee Fire (+14%), and the brand’s RTD offerings (+15%) were all up strongly, with Tennessee Fire gaining traction in the on-premise. In September, Brown-Forman debuted Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye ($27) in a bid to garner a piece of the action in the fast-growing rye whiskey segment.

Diageo’s Crown Royal has also seen impressive gains for its flavored offerings lately, with Regal Apple estimated at +2.5% to 1.3 million cases for 2017, and the newer Crown Royal Vanilla at a half-million cases. Counting the contribution of its flavors, the overall Crown Royal brand has averaged 8% annual growth over the past two years, reaching 6.1 million cases last year. “While we expect Crown Royal’s growth to slow in fiscal 2018 as we lap the launch of Vanilla, we’re expanding Crown Royal outside its core markets into the Northeast and establishing it as a go-to status brand for African-American consumers,” Diageo North America CEO Deirdre Mahlan recently told analysts.

Sazerac’s Fireball also continues to make gains in the flavored whisky segment—which is now above 10 million cases in the U.S. as a whole—even after years of torrid growth. After slowing to a pace of 5% in 2016, the cinnamon whisky accelerated to a rate of 7% last year, and the shot-focused brand is likely to crack the 5-million-case mark in 2018.

Beam Suntory is also seeing success in the flavor arena. The company’s flagship Jim Beam brand has seen strong results for its Apple variant, which debuted in 2015, and last August the line was extended with a Vanilla flavor, which received an enthusiastic reception. The core Jim Beam label continues to benefit from the Bourbon boom, and is in the midst of a production expansion that will boost output by 20%. Including its flavored extensions, Jim Beam finished 2017 at just below 5 million cases on 8.5% growth.

Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams likewise remains on the rise in the Bourbon category—including both flavored expressions like cherry and honey and the core whiskey. With growth ongoing, Heaven Hill recently completed a $25 million expansion of its Bernheim distillery in Louisville, which the company says is now the single-largest Bourbon production site in the United States, with an annual capacity of 400,000 barrels.

Meanwhile, Pernod Ricard-owned Jameson is driving the Irish whiskey category forward. In Nielsen channels, Jameson was the market’s fastest growing whisk(e)y by value for the year through November 4. “We think there’s so much opportunity to fill out the shelf with Jameson standard in less mature markets and with Caskmates and Black Barrel in more mature markets,” Pernod Ricard North America chairman and CEO Paul Duffy said in December.

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