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Leading Spirits Brands Outpace The Market In 2018

January 2, 2019

The U.S. spirits market has closed the books on a successful 2018, in which the category delivered another year of positive growth, driven by solid performances for many of the industry’s largest brands. Overall, the U.S. spirits category grew an estimated 2% to 231.9 million 9-liter cases last year, according to Impact Databank. While the ascendant craft and specialty segments have delivered notable contributions lately, it was again the top 25 spirits brands by volume that led the industry’s growth, combining for a 2.5% increase to 104.5 million cases to account for 45% of the market, up from a 43% share in 2015.

A number of brands in the top 25 spirits posted impressive gains last year, with 14 of the 25 enjoying positive growth. But the clear standouts were Tito’s and Jameson. Tito’s grew by an estimated 1.3 million cases, leapfrogging Bacardi to become the U.S. market’s No.-2 spirits brand, behind only Smirnoff. Closing the year at approximately 7.4 million cases, Tito’s has more than doubled in size over past three years, and shows no sign slowing. Now the question is whether the Texas vodka can maintain its momentum and overtake Smirnoff—which has a 1.7-million-case lead—to become the largest spirits brand in the United States. If current trends continue, that could happen by 2020.

Among brown spirits, Jameson remains the most dynamic brand by far, reaching 3.6 million cases last year. With that showing, Jameson has capped a three-year run in which it has expanded by 50% in the U.S. market, despite a significant increase in competition in the Irish whiskey space during that period.

“Jameson remains critical for us,” Pernod Ricard North America chairman and CEO Paul Duffy recently told analysts. “It’s continuing to show double-digit growth, fueled by geographic expansion. In growth markets like Texas, we’re focusing on the Original. In more mature markets like California and New York, we’re focusing on Caskmates. We still see a lot of growth opportunity across the country as a whole.”

Among other key brown spirits players, Crown Royal remains in growth mode, tacking on an estimated 250,000 cases last year. Among American whiskies, Jim Beam Bourbon posted similar gains, expanding by 6.5% to surpass 5 million cases, including flavored varieties. The pace for Jack Daniel’s has been slower, but Jack too remained in growth mode last year, advancing by 1.5%.

In the Tequila category, both Patrón and Sauza posted impressive growth in 2018, with each brand estimated at 2.7 million cases for the year. Meanwhile, Tequila category leader Jose Cuervo also grew, rising by an estimated 2%. As Tequila continues to gain steam, vodka remains a battleground. Excluding Tito’s, vodkas in the top 25 spirits rankings combined for a 700,000-case decline last year. While Smirnoff and Svedka held roughly steady, Absolut, Burnett’s, Skyy, Pinnacle, and Grey Goose all lost ground.

Impact will have a full report on the Top 25 U.S. Spirits Brands in the upcoming January 1&15 issue.—Daniel Marsteller

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