Spotlight Q&A: Whiskey Renaissance

I recently spoke to Yvonne Briese, Diageo’s VP of Marketing for North American Whisky (NAW). From Crown Royal to Piehole to Orphan Barrel, the company’s brands appeal to a wide variety of consumers and have consistently released new expressions over the past few years to take advantage of growing interest in brown spirits.

Yvonne Briese

Yvonne Briese

BD: What innovations or new products are most important to Diageo’s NAW portfolio right now?

We are extremely proud of all the recent innovation across our portfolio as each new variant has a strategic position in our overall strategy. We’ve experienced overwhelming success with flavored whiskies, led by Crown Royal Regal Apple and we continue to receive accolades from whiskey enthusiasts with the new expression available in our Orphan Barrel series, most recently Lost Prophet and Forged Oak.

BD: How is increased consumer interest in flavored spirits driving decisions with NAW?

Flavored whiskey has been one of the biggest trends within the category over the last two years. Flavored whiskey continues to show strong growth, with 1.4 million additional cases sold, accounting for 45 percent of the total whiskey category growth in 2013, according to DISCUS. Recent innovation in this area from Diageo includes Crown Royal Regal Apple, Piehole Whiskey featuring three flavors — apple pie cherry pie and pecan pie — and Jeremiah Weed Spiced, Cinnamon and Sarsaparilla Whiskey.

BD: What are the biggest trends impacting the NAW market right now?

There are several trends impacting the industry at the moment beyond the growth of flavored whiskey. This includes an increase in female whiskey drinkers, the resurgence of cocktail culture expanding to secondary markets across the U.S., and an appreciation for the heritage and craftsmanship behind whiskey. We also can’t discredit how digital and social media continue to inform consumers of new offerings and ways to responsibly enjoy our products.

BD: Crown Royal has seen a number of new expressions recently. What’s up next for the brand?

It’s been an exciting 18 months for Crown Royal on the heels of launching Crown Royal XO, Monarch 75th Anniversary, Regal Apple and most recently, the brand’s first ever Single Barrel Whisky exclusively for Texas. Crown Royal is participating in the whiskey renaissance like never before.

The hand-selected Crown Royal Single Barrel Whisky, featuring the heart of Crown Royal, Coffee Rye, is currently available exclusively to Texas retailers willing to purchase an entire barrel to surprise and delight their customers. We are really excited about offering a program like this to consumers. As a brand that values innovation, we remain committed to diversifying our portfolio and providing our consumers with options that cater towards different flavor profiles and price points.

BD: Is Diageo well-positioned to meet consumer demand if whiskey sales continue to rise at the same pace as recent years?

We have the best resources in place to ensure we’re able to meet the growing consumer demand. We’ve also made considerable investments recently in Kentucky at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillers and new Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville, slated to open in 2017, which will ensure we have quality whiskey for years to come.

BD: Are there any plans for acquisitions or new introductions in the NAW portfolio?

We are always looking to exceed our consumers’ expectations in providing them high-quality offerings and look forward to growing our portfolio with strategic innovation, but we don’t have anything to share at this time.

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