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Flavored Whiskies, Part Two: Engaging New Consumers

July 15, 2022

Flavored whiskies can provide a bridge to new consumers, allowing neophytes to experiment with the less daunting flavored entrants before jumping fully into more traditional whisk(e)y styles. “Flavors are an opportunity to welcome new consumers into the American whiskey category,” says Julie Cole, senior brand manager for Evan Williams at Heaven Hill Brands. “We’re seeing consumers enter from flavored vodka, Tequila, and rums; however, there’s also occasion-based opportunities for all levels of American whiskey fans.”

As many as half of all flavored whisk(e)y drinkers are new to the overall category, according to Jameson senior brand director Kelly Suhr. “We know the flavored whisk(e)y segment appeals to a much broader audience,” she says, noting that flavors not only expand appeal to the user but also the range of consumption occasions.

The broader audience includes newer legal-age drinkers who might not have been introduced to whisk(e)y and see flavors as a stepping-off point. “The flavored whisk(e)y consumer is younger, more multicultural and urban than the traditional whisk(e)y drinker,” notes Lisa Hunter, U.S. brand director for Jack Daniel’s flavors. “At Jack Daniel’s, we’re really targeting the next generation of beverage alcohol consumers with these brands.”

It’s not only massive brands like Evan Williams, Crown Royal, Jim Beam, Jameson, and Jack Daniel’s that are working on connecting with younger consumers through flavors. Phillips Distilling recently revamped its Revel Stoke flavor range to appeal to the entry-level set, while Western Spirits’ Bird Dog has cultivated a following for its lineup of flavored Bourbons. Newer players are also throwing their hats in the ring, including spirits industry veteran Simon Hunt and UFC president Dana White, who are partnered on the Howler Head Banana Bourbon brand.

Ron Vaughn, co-owner and COO of Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver, says consumers who purchase flavored whiskies are either exploring the sector or long-time whisk(e)y drinkers using flavors on certain occasions. “Generally, they are people, often younger, who are looking for an introduction to whisk(e)y but are cautious about the ‘burn,’” Vaughn says. “Because of this, they’re not brand loyal and are willing to try new products. Younger consumers want a sensory experience and flavors can provide that.” Argonaut’s top flavored whiskies include Fireball ($21 a 1.75-liter), Skrewball Peanut Butter whiskey ($27 a 750-ml.), and Crown Royal’s Regal Apple and Peach extensions (both $45 a 1.75-liter).

Many retailers say that while the market is crowded, new flavors and new brands are welcome. At Cheers Liquor Mart in Colorado Springs, Colorado, owner Jack Backman recently created a “Whiskey Row” within his store to showcase flavored and other whiskies. “We are always looking for more brands,” he says, noting that whisk(e)y newcomers are the primary audience for flavors. Vaughn is also enthusiastic. “We honestly like to taste all the new products; we’re not fatigued,” he says. “If you look at the number of products that we carry that didn’t exist five years ago, it would be foolish to not stay out in front of any new trends.”

Retail has historically been the main venue for flavored whisk(e)y sales. While a few brands have made headway in the on-premise, many bar professionals prefer to create their own flavors through fresh juices or spirit combinations. The market skewed even more heavily to the off-premise during the pandemic, but now that the on-premise is coming back, some marketers are targeting those venues for growth. “Consumers love to mix and match flavors and are constantly searching for new discoveries of how to drink these brands,” Hunter says. “There’s tremendous opportunity for Jack Daniel’s flavors behind the bar.”—Carol Ward

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