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Jack Daniel’s Keeps Climbing Amid The Craft Boom

March 22, 2018

While much of the American whiskey renaissance has been focused on small-production craft brands, the ongoing rise of Jack Daniel’s shows that the market’s major players are also having success winning new consumers. Jack Daniel’s has added to its U.S. volume for four straight years, crossing 5.2 million cases on a 1.1% advance in 2017, excluding its flavored offerings. Among the brand’s key recent initiatives are a partnership with the NBA and the debut of a Tennessee Rye extension, which has seen a solid response since launching last fall, according to the company.

While the core Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 continues to grow—adding about 425,000 cases to its U.S. total over the past four years—the brand is also seeing an increasing contribution from other members of the portfolio. Gentleman Jack, retailing at around $28 a 750-ml. depending on the market (compared with about $22 for the core brand), was up 7% to 387,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank. Flavored offshoots Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire were also on the rise, up 3.3% to 709,000 cases and 6.7% to 387,000 cases respectively.

John Higgins, vice president and marketing director for Jack Daniel’s at Brown-Forman, says the brand’s partnership with the NBA has opened up new promotional avenues. The brand had a substantial presence at the 2018 NBA All Star Weekend, with initiatives including a virtual tour of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. “We’re using augmented reality experiences,” says Higgins. “If you can’t get to the distillery, let us show it to you. We created a wonderful representation of what it means to make whiskey in Lynchburg.” Also, last year, the brand debuted a playful ad featuring the city of Lynchburg making a bid for an NBA team.

Jack Daniel’s flavored whiskies are serving as introductions to the brand for consumers new to the category. “Tennessee Honey recruits heavily from the millennial segment,” says Higgins. “It’s been bringing new consumers into the brand. Around 40% of those that try Honey are trying Jack Daniel’s for the first time, and half of those consumers then come into the franchise.” Higgins adds that the market for flavored whiskies has stabilized lately, allowing Honey and Fire to better leverage the shot occasion. “Tennessee Fire over-indexes in the on-premise versus the brand family overall,” he says.

With growth ongoing, Brown-Forman has been investing in Jack Daniel’s capacity. In 2016, it unveiled a new $140 million expansion plan at the distillery in Lynchburg, including a revamped visitors center, two new barrelhouses, larger bottling operations, and other upgrades. That followed a $103 million expansion in 2013.

One potential challenge looms, however, for Jack Daniel’s and other American whiskies. Brown-Forman chairman and CEO Paul Varga recently warned that the company could be hit by retaliatory tariffs overseas if the U.S. government follows through on its plan to impose tariffs on imported aluminum and steel. “Brown-Forman could be an unfortunate and unintended victim of the policy,” Varga said. —Shane English

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