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Bitters Keep Climbing As Consumers Explore New Flavor Profiles

February 20, 2019

As consumers continue to expand their flavor repertoires, bitter liqueurs and aperitifs have begun to catch fire in the U.S. Much of the category’s growth has been centered in the on-premise, where mixologists have been promoting bitters in an array of cocktails.

“America’s palate now fully embraces bold bitter flavors,” says Melanie Batchelor, vice president of marketing for Campari America. “We’ve seen a steady rise in the popularity of espresso, intense dark chocolates, IPAs, and wild greens, for example.”

At the forefront of the trend, Campari and its portfoliomate Aperol both continue to show dynamic U.S. growth. The U.S. is now the second-largest market for the Campari brand in value terms, and the third-largest for Aperol. According to Impact Databank, Aperol surged 60% to 160,000 cases in the U.S. last year, while Campari jumped by 15% to 140,000 cases.

Driven by the growing popularity of the Aperol Spritz cocktail, Aperol has more than tripled in size in the U.S. over the past three years. “Aperol has been a huge priority for the company, and we’ll continue to focus on the daytime occasion to make sure we’re present at patios, pools, and all on-premise destinations in the summertime,” says Batchelor. The Campari brand, meanwhile, is being supported with a short film this year titled “Entering Red,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Negroni cocktail.

Fernet-Branca has also been in growth mode, and is now above 70,000 cases in the U.S. market. Spirits industry veteran Patrick Piana took over as CEO of Fernet-Branca parent Fratelli Branca last year, aiming to drive sales for the group’s flagship brand. The company recently announced the creation of Branca USA, a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary led by Steve Brecher as CEO. Brecher was previously CEO of former Fernet-Branca importer Infinium Spirits. The Italian bitter is being promoted as a cocktail ingredient in the U.S. to introduce consumers to its herbal flavor profile. Though still relatively small in the U.S., Fernet-Branca has global volume of more than 5 million cases.

Other players are also making moves in the bitters space. Nonino amaro, handled by Terlato Wines in the U.S., has been among the brands showing growth lately, and Kobrand added Lucano amaro to its portfolio last year. Gruppo Montenegro’s namesake amaro has also made a push in the U.S. recently. Meanwhile, craft distillers including Washington D.C.’s Don Ciccio & Figli (Amaro delle Sirene) and Baltimore Spirits Co., which offers three amaros, are likewise targeting the category.

While Jägermeister has struggled in the U.S. in recent years, it too is targeting the on-premise as it looks to rebound and capitalize on the trend toward more bitter flavor profiles. Last year, the brand launched Jägermeister Manifest ($60), which is aged in used American and German oak barrels for over a year and is billed as both a sipper and a cocktail component. “Manifest is a huge moment for the brand and has given us an opportunity to share our production and quality story,” says Jeff Popkin, CEO of Mast-Jägermeister U.S.—Shane English

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