The 2016 Spirits Growth Brands Awards: Top-Sellers and Market Trends

Flavors on the Rise

The recent surge in liqueur sales is led by flavored whiskeys, which don’t fit neatly into the category and may necessitate a separate distinction in the near future. Fast Track winner Fireball, which grew at exponential rates over the past decade and is now a top-ten spirit at nearly five million cases sold, is both “humbled and excited” to be named a Growth Brands winner and “owes it all to our great Fireball nation of fans,” according to Senior Marketing Director Becky Henry.

As for the Sazerac brand’s plans in 2016? “More of the same – we’ll leave the growth in the hands of our nation of fans,” she adds.

Brown-Forman’s sibling brands Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire are both Rising Star winners this year after capitalizing on the flavored whiskey trend. Both brands are focused on promotions that bring younger consumers to the Jack Daniel’s brand, including celebrity partnerships with K. Michelle and Mila J.


“Popularity in whiskey continues to grow as consumers from other spirit categories are starting to explore whiskey for the first time,” says Jack Daniel’s Flavors Brand Director Casey Nelson. “Jack Honey and Jack Fire offer the confidence of a trusted, iconic brand, and the smooth, approachable taste making for an excellent entry point into whiskey.”

Western Spirits’ Bird Dog is another Fast Track winner for the whisky category this year. In 2015, the brand focused heavily in off-premise around displays and seasonal programming in summer and fall. “Being in the fastest-growing category has really helped accelerate brand growth,” says Vice President of Marketing Jon Holecz. “With Bird Dog continuing to focus on unique flavor offerings, we are giving our customers and new consumers a chance to experience something different.”


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Other Notable Spirits

Campari America’s namesake brand won a Fast Track award this year, which isn’t something you would expect from a 150-year-old cordial. Campari invested heavily in its promotion of Negroni Week, supporting the on-premise event with social media, media relations and events, advertising, POS and in-bar collateral and marketing partnerships. More than 3,500 accounts participated from 44 countries, an increase of nearly 200% over 2014. The week raised more than $321,000 for charities around the world.

“A major contributing factor in Campari’s unprecedented growth has been the bartender,” says VP of Marketing for white spirits and cordials, Richard Black. “No other figure in the spirits industry has the amount of influence as the person standing behind the bar to drive drink trends.”

Another century-old brand, Buchanan’s, is an Established Growth winner this year. The Diageo Scotch whisky focuses its marketing efforts on the multicultural consumer, particularly Hispanics, which has been a key to growth. The brand partners with music and entertainment platforms to engage with customers and influencers. In 2015, Buchanan’s also redesigned its packaging for three out of four whiskies for the first time in 23 years.

“Over the past few years, Buchanan’s has grown a stake and equity in the world of Latin music and we will continue to support these high-profile music platforms and up-and-coming Hispanic music talent that embody the spirit of our brand and our founder,” says Diageo’s Scotch whisky, North America Director Brian Cox.

A much younger brand, Fast Track winner Tito’s Handmade Vodka, is among the few shining stars in its category. Tito’s began 2015 with a “Fresh Start” program that shared with consumers how the founder’s own fresh start led him down a path to follow his passion and skills. As a company, Fifth Generation wants to actively help other companies get started and help loyal consumers explore meaningful endeavors.

“When Tito launched his vodka twenty years ago, no one in the industry was speaking about the craft spirits movement,” says EVP of Sales, Peter Angus. “Tito’s foresight has pioneered the way for literally hundreds, if not thousands, of other craft spirits to share their creations from coast to coast. You can legitimately say he has helped birth the craft spirit movement in the U.S., much the way Jim Koch pioneered the craft beer movement.”

Finally, distiller Heaven Hill led all spirit suppliers this year with nine winners (second place was Diageo with five). Included in that list are a diverse group of brands, from Blackheart Spiced rum to Larceny Bourbon to newly-acquired Deep Eddy Vodka. “Quality and variety are the characteristics we think consumers embrace, which are consistent across the entire range of products from Heaven Hill Brands,” says VP of Marketing Kate Latts. “These award-winning brands deliver unique and compelling experiences for their core consumers through innovative marketing and promotional programs, with the range covering the entire spectrum of this great industry.”

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Brand Feature: D’Usse Cognac

Bacardi’s D’Usse Cognac is a Rising Star award winner this year after growing 5.5% in 2015 to 58,000 cases sold. This marks the second time D’Usse is a Rising Star, following a year in which the brand implemented programs and activations around key events, leading to increased brand awareness and exposure.

“We launched the six-city D’Usse Lounge—a private, lux viewing party where special VIP guests were treated to a custom cigar shop and expertly paired cocktails,” says Tyler Phillips of Bacardi. “D’Usse has also received distinguished achievements, including ‘World’s Best VSOP Cognac’ from the World Cognac Awards, and a Silver for VSOP and a Double Gold for XO at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.”

Contributing to the brand’s success and growth are the explosive popularity of superpremium brown spirits and the high-end cocktail culture in the U.S., she adds. “D’Usse signature cocktails have proven to be consumer favorites for both Cognac connoisseurs and early entrants to the category,” Phillips says. “The brand’s versatility lends itself to both trends quite effortlessly.”



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