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Distilled Spirits Council Touts Upscale Growth But Warns On Tariff Impact

February 13, 2020

The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) reports that supplier sales increased 5.3% to $29 billion last year on a volume increase of 3.3% to 239 million cases, but the trade group warned that spirits tariffs on both sides of the Atlantic are presenting significant headwinds for the industry.

“While it was another strong year for U.S. spirits sales, the tariffs imposed by the European Union are causing a significant slump in American whiskey exports,” said DISCUS president and CEO Chris Swonger. “We are now gravely concerned that the U.S. tariffs on E.U. spirits imports will have the same deleterious effect in the United States.”

American whiskey exports to the E.U. fell 27% last year, as tariffs hurt the international expansion of the category. In the U.S., single malt whiskies from Scotland and Northern Ireland are already under a 25% tariff, and levies as high as 100% on all E.U.-produced whiskies, Cognac, cordials, and liqueurs (as well as all E.U. wines) are being considered.

While the spirits industry continues to mobilize against the tariff threat, it has seen the long-term premiumization trend advance further in the U.S. over the past year, with the average supplier revenue per-case topping $120. Much of that progress is due to the super-premium and high-end pricing segments, which saw revenue growth of 7.6% and 7.9% in 2019. The trade group defines “super-premium” as spirits retail priced at $35 and up, while “high end” encompasses the $20-$35 tier.—Daniel Marsteller

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