Can Irish Cream Expand Beyond Holiday Sales?

Every retailer knows when Irish Cream sells best: the fourth quarter and St. Patrick’s Day. The three months of Q4 alone can account for 50-60% of yearly sales for some Irish cream brands.

But can the spirit ever grow significantly beyond these times of year?

That question has long hung over the category. Brands have tried many different strategies in trying to sell more Irish Cream outside of the holiday-time spikes. And their work might just be paying off.

Sales Boost

Offseason sales of Irish Cream are up, reports Will Moore, GM and buyer at Crown Liquors, an Indiana-based retail chain of 29 locations.

The category grew 8.6% at Crown Liquors in 2016 versus 2015, Moore explains. And the greatest gains came when you might least expect them.

“The biggest growth was in the middle of the year, in Q2 and Q3, when you’re not used to seeing the numbers go up,” Moore says. “The category was up 23.7% in 2016 during those months, compared with the same time in 2015.”

“Irish Whiskey does seem like it’s a year-round thing,” he adds, rather than just a seasonal star.

Brands have strongly played into this potential shift in consumer opinion. The Irish Cream category leader Baileys is “actually designed to be enjoyed throughout the year,” says Nicola Heckles, director of liqueurs at Diageo.

“Whether enjoying it in coffee for a 5 o’clock surprise or pouring over ice cream for dessert, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Baileys after the holiday season has come to an end,” Heckles explains. “Even on the hottest of summer days, Baileys can be blended with ice for a sweet treat, creating an exceptional indulgence throughout the year.”

Communicating that to the consumer, of course, is critical for Irish Cream brands.

Irish cream liqueur in a glass with cinnamon on wooden background

“I do think creams in general are up,” says Will Moore, GM and buyer at Crown Liquors. “For instance, RumChata has been doing very well for us. So has every cream-based product.”

Reason For The Season

What’s behind the mid-season category boom at Crown Liquors? Moore is not entirely sure, he admits. But he has some ideas.

“I do think creams in general are up,” he says. “For instance, RumChata has been doing very well for us. So has every cream-based product.”

The ongoing craze for Irish whiskey is a possibility. The correlation in numbers is not identical, Moore points out, but it’s certainly a factor. Especially with Irish whiskey’s dominant brand, Jameson, enjoying another year of strong sales in 2016.

Whatever is behind the sales, the Irish Cream category has experienced notable growth at Crown Liquors.

“Every brand is up,” Moore explains. “Baileys is up 8.6%. Carolans is up 28%. Ryan’s is a brand that we’re still carrying just a small amount, but it’s still up 36%.”

Baileys Pumpkin SpiceAll About Baileys

If seasonal sales are one of two defining features of Irish Cream, the other is the dominance of Baileys.

The Diageo brand sold 1.28 million 9-liter cases in 2015. While this represented a 1% decline from the numbers in 2014 (1.30 million cases), it’s still about four times as large as the next biggest competitor. That would be Carolans Irish Cream, a Campari brand with 366,000 cases sold in 2015 (down 3.9%).

How has a brand founded in 1974 remained so popular and relevant with modern consumers? One way is by “constantly reinventing ourselves to appeal to the palettes of new consumers,” explains Heckles of Diageo.

This includes the release last fall of the limited-edition Baileys Pumpkin Spice. “The launch was the strongest flavor launch in recent history for Baileys,” Heckles says.

Female Focus

Another way that Baileys has remained so relevant in recent time is by focusing on women.

Females drinking craft products has become a big market, as more women increase in connoisseurship. “Craft” is hardly a male-dominated trend. And Irish Cream has traditionally attracted a female fandom.

Baileys is “a brand built for women,” Heckles explains. It “urges women to be unapologetic in their pursuit of pleasure.” The target consumers are women aged between 35-54.

Newly developed for that demographic is Baileys Almande, a dairy- and gluten-free almond-milk liqueur, which allows “consumers to have more options for different occasions,” Heckles says.

The smaller brand Molly’s also has looked to tap into the female market. Last year we reported how the brand partnered up with the all-female Irish musical ensemble The Celtic Woman, which also plays into the cultural heritage that’s currently helping buoy the Irish Cream ingredient Irish whiskey.

KerrygoldNew Brand On The Block

For being a smaller category, Irish Cream still attracts its fair share of new brands. These brands will face a double-edged sword. On one side there is clear growth opportunity, since so few brands hold major market share of the category. And on the other side is Baileys.

Positioning is important. For instance, with the price of Baileys typically around $20 per 750-ml. bottle, other brands will present themselves as alternative “value” options. Both Brady’s ($11.99-$12.99) and Molly’s ($15) go this route. Other brands take a longer, larger view.

Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur has been imported into America for two years now by Kerrygold USA. But only in the past three months has its producer signifi cantly shifted emphasis behind the Irish Cream brand.

“Now that we have the right partners in place, and now that we have 55 people working on the brand, we can begin to focus more on integration,” explains David Weir, National Sales Manager, Ornua Foods North America (owner of the Kerrygold brand).

By “integration” he means increasing the profile of Kerrygold Irish Cream within the broader — and pre-established — Kerrygold brand. Mostly through its popular butter and cheese products, this dairy brand is already generating $200 million in annual sales, Weir reports.

“We’ve been involved with dairy products for a long time in America,” Weir says. “We’ve spent a long time developing Kerrygold in the U.S.”

As with Baileys or any other Irish Cream brand, Kerrygold remains focused on sales outside of the traditional Q1/Q4 boom time. Its recently launched “Made For This Moment” campaign positions Irish cream as an indulgent product appropriate for all months. “It can make life’s simplest moments more memorable,” Weir says.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartz. Read his recent piece: Is Mezcal The Next Trendy Spirit?

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