A year in which we seemed to be riding an economic roller coaster ‘ turmoil followed by terrible news, followed by some rays of optimism, followed by uncertainty, 2009 left U.S. businesses in a defensive crouch from which they have not yet uncurled. To shore up balance sheets, cost-cutting has been brutal, leaving millions of workers without jobs, but public companies, at least, appear to be well on their way to recovery, as evidenced by the huge rebound in the stock market last year. There is hope that rehiring and new jobs will eventually follow, and with rising employment, consumer confidence should certainly also increase. For the beverage alcohol industry, this would be a huge impetus, probably resulting in sales gains reminiscent of the middle of the decade. But it is way too soon to predict anything as rosy as that scenario. Indeed, few people will go on record predicting anything for the short term. As DISCUS CEO Peter Cressy said recently at the organization’s annual Distilled Spirits Review, ‘Our data shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The question remains: How long is the tunnel?’
Still, when the world economy finally made it through the financial meltdown of late 2008 and early 2009, we all seemed to learn one major truth: The world is not coming to an end and neither is the beverage alcohol industry. As an industry we’ve taken some lumps, but overall, things could have been a lot worse if the economy had not stabilized, even in its current weakened condition. Yet, the fallout has been significant. As the recession heated up, U.S. consumers held onto their discretionary dollars, reversing the decade-long trend of rocketing superpremium growth among high-end wines and spirits. In 2009, for example, spirits value brands gained 5.5% in sales volume while sales of high-end (above premium) spirits decreased 3.5% and sales of superpremium spirits fell 5.1%, according to DISCUS. On-premise establishments were hit hardest, as consumers pulled back, by eating out less frequently and choosing to entertain at home rather than splurge for pricey drinks at bars and restaurants. Retail outlets have benefitted from this shift, as consumers go into their ‘cocoons.’ At the same time, value-priced brands of both wines and spirits have become the driving forces of volume.
‘Everything has been about trading down,’ stated Eric Schmidt, research director for the Beverage Information Group. ‘And the shift encompasses an increase in sales of lower-priced domestic products, particularly among spirits.’
Despite the twists and turns, overall wine and spirits sales volume still increased in 2009, according to the latest statistics just released in the Handbook Advance 2010, published by the Beverage Information Group. U.S. distilled spirits consumption rose by just over 3 million 9-liter cases to approximately188.7 million 9-liter cases, representing a 1.7% gain. This follows the 2.1% increase in 2008 and is the slowest spirits volume growth since 2001. Spirits revenue growth (the combined dollar total of off- and on-premise sales) also kept pace, increasing 1.9% to $64.1 billion. In this context, it’s important to remember that while above-premium and high-end sales were off compared to recent years, they still accounted for many billions of dollars in revenue, with numerous brands continuing to do well. Total U.S. wine consumption increased about 2.3 million 9-liter cases, to just over 297 million cases, representing a 0.8% gain. It seems that sales of superpremium wines suffered even more than those of high-end spirits: the $4 to $6 price point (for 750 mls) appears to be the most dynamic, followed by wines costing up to and slightly above $10 retail. In addition, there has been considerable growth in large-size box wines (3-, 4- and 5-liter). In 2009, overall wine revenue decreased by 3.2% to $26.1 billion.
Even a deep recession cannot halt the vodka machine. This monster spirits category rose another 5.7% in 2009, adding more than 3 million 9-liter cases for a total consumption of approximately 58.4 million cases. For the first time, vodka now represents more than 30% of all spirits consumed in the U.S. As every beverage alcohol professional knows, new vodka expressions, flavors and brands, from around the world, continue to proliferate. The only question is: Where are retailers and bar operators putting all these bottles?
The second-largest spirits category, rum, saw consumption rise by a more modest 1.6% to 25.0 million 9-liter cases. Still riding the popularity of the Mojito, category activity also includes new spiced and flavored rums as well as a variety of aged expressions. Tequila also gained last year, with consumption up 1.3% to about 11.2 million cases. Largely driven by the Margarita, the category’ consumption trends also take into account the various levels ‘ from premium to superpremium to ultra-premium ‘ of a brand’s portfolio. The gin category barely eked out a 0.2% increase to just under 11.4 million cases. In keeping with the overall trends, the more-expensive imported gins declined by 4.1% while the domestic brands grew by 2.0%.
Total American Whiskey edged up 0.6%, to 20.2 million 9-liter cases, with the higher-profile, higher-priced straight whiskies growing only 0.4% and the lower-priced blends ‘ representing considerably less sales volume ‘ rising 1.2%. For its part, Canadian whisky showed decent results, increasing 1.2% to 15.65 million cases. Interestingly, the higher-priced foreign-bottled Canadians (up 2.1%) outperformed the value-priced U.S.-bottled brands (up 0.4%). The category Irish & Other Whiskies once again gained in double-digits (up 13.9%) off of a small base. Driven primarily by the success of Jameson Irish Whiskey, the category reached almost 1.2 million cases. Overall Scotch declined barely at all (down 0.1%) to just over 8.9 million cases. Somewhat counterintuitively, though, the less expensive U.S.-bottled brands were off 1.4% while foreign-bottled brands were up slightly (0.1%). Even more surprising was that the higher-priced single malt segment gained 2.1%.
The third-largest spirits category, cordials& liqueurs, consumption total fell to under 20 million cases (down 4.1%) in a year when most of the well-known above-premium-priced proprietary brands suffered because of the recession. Also losing ground for much the same reason was the brandy & cognac category. The higher-end cognac segment declined 4.0%, while imported brandy declined 5.1%; meanwhile, the less-expensive domestic brandy segment grew by 2.4%.
Table wine now accounts for nearly 92% (272.6 million 9-liter cases) of all wine consumed in the U.S., with domestics representing more than two-thirds of that amount. In 2009, domestic table wine increased by 1.7% while the imports declined by 1.1%. This is the segment where the vast majority of wines on the U.S. market jockey for positioning, from the low to the high end. As the economy slowly recovers ‘ and it will ‘ premium and superpremium wine sales will pick up, though for now, value table wine brands are determining the velocity in the marketplace.
Though relatively small, champagne & sparkling wine increased by 1.5% last year, to just over 13.8 million cases. Interestingly, domestic sparklers, with about twice the volume of imports, rose an impressive 5.0% to just over 9 million cases. Imported sparkling wine fell by 4.4%. Though small in size, the dessert & fortified wine category declined by 4.4%, while vermouth fell 1.8%.
Brands Maintaining Growth
Especially in this turbulent economic environment, it’s useful to recognize the many brands that have managed to navigate the rough waters. As we’ve said here before, there are beverage alcohol products in every category and at every price point that, for any number of reasons, have either lagged behind or outpaced their respective competitors. Often, a combination of elements ‘ among them solid distribution and retail support, supplier resources, marketing creativity, product heritage and brand equity, the right economic environment, a solid product in the bottle, advantageous price positioning and sometimes just plain luck – help lead to product success. This past year, the recessionary environment obviously played a large role, but that can’t be the only answer to why many of these brands appear on the following pages. And though evaluating category consumption trends can provide the big picture, drilling down to actual brand performance provides the details. Thus, the reason for our annual Growth Brands report, which uses the most up-to-date industry results to highlight the wine and spirits brands with noteworthy growth over the past several years. Often, they are the products that form the base upon which industry sales are built; they are also the brands worth watching, which may someday join those others as part of the base. [The September/October 2010 issue of Beverage Dynamics will publish Beer Growth Brand results.]
SPIRITS FAST TRACK BRANDS
The Fast Track Growth Brands category represents the top-performing brands, percentage-wise, during the past four years. The criteria are demanding: a wine or spirit must have maintained double-digit growth over each of those four years while selling at least 100,000 9-liter cases this past year. Based on the Beverage Information Group’s 2009 statistics, 14 spirits brands made the Fast Track list, matching last year’s total. There are three new Fast Track spirits members this year, two of them value-priced brands that are obviously benefitting from the trading down trend among consumers (Burnett’s Vodka and Juarez Tequila), and a premium-priced orange-flavored liqueur (Patron Citronge Orange Liqueur). The remaining 11 brands were on the list last year and maintained their sturdy growth throughout 2009.
Vodka brands once again dominate the Fast Track spirits category (eight in total), as that leading segment has for many years now. [The Fast Track also includes one whiskey, one liqueur, three rum brands and a tequila.] Indeed, the top half dozen brands in sales volume are all vodkas, beginning with Svedka, the Swedish import, priced below many other well-known imported vodkas. The brand has had a phenomenal performance over the past five years, growing to 2009 sales of just under 2.8 million cases. Adding almost 700,000 9-liter cases last year, representing a 34.1% increase, Svedka is now well-entrenched as one of the best-selling vodkas in the U.S. And not resting on its laurels, Svedka launched a new package in 2009, meant to highlight the brand’s shelf presence. Burnett’s Vodka moved from the Established Growth Brand category (reserved for large-volume brands that have increased sales over the past four years, but not at double-digit percentage rates) last year to the more demanding Fast Track this year, based on a 24.9% jump in sales, reaching 1.28 million 9-liter cases. While the value brand has undoubtedly thrived in the tough economy, sales growth is also the result of the popularity of its wide array of flavor offerings. Three Olives Vodka, a returning Fast Track member, saw its sales increase 13.6%, to 1.25 million 9-liter cases. Priced slightly above premium, the English import has found success with its range of 14 flavors, including Root Beer and Triple Shot Espresso.
Also remaining on the Fast Track is the domestically produced Seagram’s Vodka, which broke the 1 million case mark in 2009, to 1.085 million 9-liter cases. Its portfolio includes Extra Smooth, distilled five times; Platinum Select, a 100 proof product; and Apple-Flavored Extra Smooth. The brand also debuted Seagram’s Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka. Imported from France, the Pinnacle Vodka line is above-premium priced and features 21 flavors, from Butterscotch to Blueberry to Chocolate. The brand had a sensational 2009, gaining more than 400,000 9-liter cases for a total of more than 1 million, a 67.3% increase from the previous year. For its part, the value-priced UV Vodka gained 29.2% last year, reaching sales of 855,000 9-liter cases, while accenting its range of flavor offerings.
Jameson Irish Whiskey, a perennial Fast Track member, is the first non-vodka represented in the category. Jameson continues to open eyes, gaining another 130,000 9-liter cases last year, to 815,000 cases, a 19.2% increase. The brand continues to dominate the Irish whiskey category and remains the fastest-growing whiskey product with significant sales, percentage-wise, in the U.S. market. Value-priced Juarez Tequila, including Gold and Silver versions, moved from the Established Growth Brand category to the Fast Track this year, based on its four-year double-digit growth rate and an 18.8% increase in 2009, to 760,000 9-liter cases. Juarez clearly benefitted from the recent consumer trading down phenomenon, as did Admiral Nelson Spiced Rum. Imported from the Caribbean, the Admiral’s competitive pricing for a spiced rum product helped propel the brand to a 29.4% gain in 2009, reaching 550,000 9-liter cases. Like Admiral Nelson, Sailor Jerry Spiced Navy Rum is a returning Fast Track member. The premium-priced Sailor Jerry garnered sales of 400,000 9-liter cases, a 16.3% increase. Jack Flavored Rums is the third rum brand represented here. The mid-priced brand gained a healthy 37.8% in 2009, to 175,000 9-liter cases.
The superpremium Ciroc, imported from France, continues to see huge benefits from its marketing agreement with hip hop star and entrepreneur Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, who has taken an active role in promoting the grape-based vodka. The brand grew a hefty 41.7% in 2009 to 350,000 9-liter cases, and is looking to build on its momentum with two new just-released flavors: Ciroc Red Berry and Ciroc Coconut. For its part, Pearl Vodka, from Canada, had another stellar year. The premium-priced brand reached 210,000 9-liter cases last year, a 16.7% gain.
Finally, Citronge Orange, a new Fast Track member, hit the minimum 100,000 9-liter case mark last year. The above-premium priced orange and citrus flavored liqueur is produced in Mexico, and made with Jamaican and Haitian oranges. Though it has been successfully positioned as an ingredient in Margaritas and is part of the Patron stable of products, its base spirit is not tequila (it is produced using a neutral base spirit). It grew an impressive 38.9% last year.
SPIRITS RISING STAR BRANDS
Rising Star brands have been on the market four years or less and are represented here for a few reasons: They have demonstrated significant growth over a short time; they have made a notable impression in the market; or they are still relatively small but show promise. Last year the list included 16 Rising Stars; this year there are 26, with 13 returning members. Apparently, even the economic slowdown has not kept distillers from launching successful new products, nor has it kept consumers from continuing to purchase and help build these newer brands. And suggested retail prices for these Rising Stars span the range from several value-priced brands to a number of superpremium-priced products. As expected, vodkas numbered the most Rising Stars, at ten, followed by seven liqueurs, two rums, two tequilas, two gins, and one each of bourbon, cachaca and a prepared cocktail.
New Amsterdam, the reasonably priced domestic gin from E&J Gallo, has had an amazing few years on the market, reaching sales of 800,000 9-liter cases last year (up 77.8%), adding another 350,000 cases to its 2008 total. Besides its price, the brand’s flavor profile, featuring light citrus notes with little of the juniper flavor of most mainstream gins, seems to have struck a chord with consumers. Sobieski, the value-priced Polish rye vodka, has also had a terrific couple of years, more than doubling its sales in 2009 to 530,000 9-liter cases. Hoping to keep up the momentum, the brand recently released its first two flavor extensions: Sobieski Cytron and Sobieski Vanilia. The third top-selling Rising Star is new to the list: Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka debuted last year with a surprising 150,000 cases. Accenting its ‘Southern Style,’ the brand is promoting itself as a down-home, country product. The 70 proof flavored vodka is premium-priced and includes in its portfolio Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka with Country Peach, Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka with Bourbon, and Half & Half Prepared Cocktail with vodka and lemonade. For its part, Sweet Carolina Sweet Tea Vodka launched its sweet tea flavored spirit a year earlier, and saw its sales shoot up to 105,000 9-liter cases in 2009.
Several other vodkas are continuing to gain market share or are making a strong initial impression. The above-premium priced Russian Standard wheat vodka increased by another 56.5% last year, to 133,000 cases. The brand, which boasts a proprietary Silver Filtration system, also launched a superpremium line extension, Russian Standard Platinum. In gaining another 40% last year, Ruskova, also a Russian vodka, accents its value-price proposition, as well as its pot still production. Another vodka succeeding with price-conscious consumers is Tenure, imported from Poland. The 80 proof import is distilled seven times and comes in a frosted, peek-a-boo bottle.
At the other end of the price spectrum is the ultra-premium Crystal Head Vodka, brought to market and actively promoted by actor Dan Aykroyd. Selling for about $45, the brand is triple-filtered through Herkimer diamond crystals; it sold 46,000 cases its first year on the market. Also ultra-premium priced is Ultimat Vodka, imported from Poland and made from a combination of Polish grains and potatoes. Ultimat’s upscale pricing is underlined by its package, a striking cobalt blue crystal decanter. Meanwhile, the above-premium priced 42 Below Vodka, reached 45,000 9-liter cases last year. Using a distinctive distillation process, 42 Below hails from New Zealand and boasts of the purity of the water used in its production. The brand also has Honey and Passionfruit-flavored line extensions. For its past, 360 Vodka, made from organic wheat, has had early success positioning itself as an ‘eco-friendly’ product, highlighting its environmentally responsible efforts in its production and community support. It has also just debuted two new flavors: 360 Cola and 360 Double Chocolate.
A couple of well-known spirits brands successfully debuted new products into the market last year. Jim Beam launched Red Stag by Jim Beam, a premium-priced black cherry flavored bourbon, which hit sales of 75,000 cases in 2009. Southern Comfort introduced two ready-to-drink cocktails made with the famous spirit: Southern Comfort Sweet Tea Cocktail and Sothern Comfort Hurricane Cocktail. Both new brands are 30 proof and come in 1.75 liter bottles ($20 suggested retail). On the market less than a year, the brand hit 49,000 cases. And in only its second year on the market, Wild Turkey’s line extension, the 71 proof Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur, reached sales of 130,000 9-liter cases.
Other liqueurs have also made impressive early showings. Nuvo L’Esprit de Paris, a superpremium sparkling liqueur, hit 125,000 9-liter cases in its second year on the market. Presented in a package reminiscent of a high-end perfume, and initially targeted at female consumers, Nuvo is made from grain and spring water and then combined with sparkling wine. Imported from Germany, Schwartzhog, in the bitters segment, is made with herbs, spices, fruit and hog root. The brand saw case sales increase more than 72%. Packaged in a gorgeous bottle, the superpremium French elderflower liqueur, St.-Germain, continues to gain customers, hitting 30,000 cases last year. Meanwhile the superpremium TY KU ‘ made from a blend of Asian pears, melon, tea, citrus, ginger, soju and other ingredients – tripled its sales in 2009 to 30,000 cases. The cognac-based Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur continues to grow from a small base, as does Rum Jumbie, a superpremium rum liqueur made with tropical fruits.
After being relaunched in the U.S. a few years ago, Don Q Rum is making a new mark, with 2009 sales of 118,000 9-liter cases. The rum line includes the mid-priced Cristal, Gold and Anejo expressions, as well as flavored versions of Lime, Coconut and Mojito. More recently, the brand debuted an ultra-premium priced Grand Anejo rum. Taking a different tack, the value-priced, Spiced Jack 94 was just released last year and ended 2009 at sales of 15,000 cases. The spiced rum is 94 proof and is presented as the concoction of legendary Navy pilot Jack Butler, supposedly stationed in Bermuda in the 1950s and whose visage is on the label.
Azul Tequila, from the well-known Gran Centenario tequila enterprise, launched last year with a healthy 75,000 cases sales. The premium Reposado tequila is made from 100% agave. Another 100% agave tequila, Lunazul, is a repeating Rising Star. The above-premium priced brand, made at the La Certeza distillery, more than doubled its sales to 42,000 cases last year. Leblon Cachaca is the first cachaca to make the list. The Brazilian cousin to rum reached sales of 25,000 cases in 2009. Finally, Pinnacle Gin, an English import like its companion Pinnacle Vodka of the Fast Track category, hit a respectable 30,000 cases in only its second year in the U.S.
SPIRITS ESTABLISHED GROWTH BRANDS
Over the past two years, the Spirits Established Growth Brand category has decreased by one-third, from 27 brands, to 23 brands last year to 18 brands this year. They represent large-volume brands (over 400,000 cases) that increased sales over each of the last four years. Clearly, the challenging economic environment of the past 18 months has resulted in a number of top brands losing their sales momentum, for the time being at least. Top brands such as Jagermeister and Jose Cuervo, among others, have fallen from the list because of recent sales declines. At the same time, the brands cited here, mostly mature brands, should be commended for having managed to continue their sales gains. And, to a degree, they reflect the tenor of the spirits marketplace. The four brands that are new to the list are all value-priced, joining several other lower-priced Established Growth Brands that have flourished as consumers have reached lower on the shelves during the past year. Even so, there are still a number of superpremium and premium brands on the list, which includes ten vodkas, three Canadian whiskies, two rums, two bourbons and one brandy.
In 2009, a dozen Established Growth Brands topped sales of 1 million cases, led by Smirnoff, which notched sales of more than 9.5 million 9-liter cases. After its 2.0% gain, the brand laid claim to being the top-selling spirit in the U.S. Following closely behind is the perennial best-seller Bacardi, which eked out a 0.4% increase to 9.4 million cases. The second rum on the list is Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, which saw sales jump by more than 200,000 cases (up 3.8%) to 6.3 million cases. The superpremium Canadian whisky Crown Royal continued its successful sales climb, breaking the 4 million cases mark for the first time, with a healthy 6.2% increase. Another superpremium, Grey Goose, also continued growing, though not at the astronomical rates of recent years. Last year, the brand hit 3.5 million cases (up 1.2%). The only brandy on the list, E&J Brandy, eclipsed 3 million cases for the first time, with an impressive 6.6% sales increase. For its part, premium-priced Skyy Vodka gained a solid 6.8%, to more than 2.6 million cases. Skyy’s successful Infusions flavors have helped to keep the brand moving forward.
The remaining vodkas are all value-priced brands. Three of them ‘ Barton, Kamchatka and Taaka ‘ are first-time Established Growth Brands. Barton reached 1.8 million cases last year (up 5.9%), Kamatchka hit 973,000 cases (up 2.0%) and Taaka climbed to 435,000 cases (up 14.5%). Meanwhile, Aristocrat Vodka attained the 1 million case mark, representing a 9.3% increase. And Skol Vodka reached almost 1.6 million cases (up 0.2%).
The superpremium Patron tequila, which has been among the fastest-growing spirits in the U.S., saw its growth slow, though it managed to maintain a slight sales increase, to 1.73 million cases. The brand recently debuted a 375 ml package for its Gran Patron Platinum expression. Evan Williams is one of the two Established Growth Brands to climb by double-digit percentages (up 10.3%), notching 1.235 million cases in 2009. The bourbon’s base brand is competitively priced; however, it also features an ultra-premium single barrel expression. The iconic Maker’s Mark Bourbon is another superpremium product that has maintained its growth status, sailing past 800,000 cases last year, a sales gain of 5.1%. Keep an eye out for a new product from Maker’s Mark, rumored to be debuting later this spring.
Two value-priced Canadian whiskies, both from Sazerac, also attained Growth Brand status. Rich & Rare jumped to 765,000 cases, a substantial 7.0% increase, while newcomer Canadian LTD rose 3.0% to 691,000 cases.
Finally, the line of 1800 Tequilas, ranging from superpremium to ultra-premium prices, continued its sales growth, rising 3.3% to 537,000 cases.
SPIRITS COMEBACK BRANDS
This category recognizes those brands of significant volume that saw sales decline two years ago (2008) but which rebounded in 2009. The increase, however, must result in sales totals that are at least equal to or greater than the 2007 sales totals.
This year there are three Comeback Brands. Ketel One Vodka, which had seen tremendous growth for years until a decrease in 2008, regained its positive sales momentum in 2009. The superpremium import from Holland increased 3.6% last year to sales of 1.84 million cases. The superpremium Johnnie Walker Black likewise had been growing impressively for years until a sales falloff in 2008. But the Scotch gained almost 50,000 cases last year to break 800,000 9-liter cases, a notable 6.3% increase. The third Comeback Brand is Fleischmann’s Royal Vodka, joining a host of other value-priced vodkas that had significant sales gains in 2009. The brand rose 5.1% to 985,000 cases.
WINE FAST TRACK BRANDS
Having good-tasting, fun, affordable wines is the current sweet spot to be in if you are selling wine in the U.S. these days. And the Wine Fast Track truly underline