A brown Christmas? Brown spirits make a comeback in the US

Posted by Isobel Drake on 16th December 2008

While sales trends have typically favoured white spirits in recent years, brown spirits, led by whiskey, appear to be making a comeback. U.S. sales growth for whiskey and brown spirits is outperforming the growth rate of the overall spirits category in 2008, according to The Nielsen Company.

Brown spirits include all whiskeys: Bourbon/Straight, Blends, Canadian, Scotch, Irish, etc., as well as Cognac/Brandy. White spirits include Vodka, Gin, Tequila and Rum, even if such categories might include aged – and hence brown – variants.

* Whiskey growth rates have been rising steadily this year, with whiskey dollar sales increasing 4.4 per cent in 2008, up from 2.3 per cent a year ago . By comparison, dollar sales growth for spirits has largely remained unchanged. At the same time, whiskey volume, while declining a year ago, is now showing growth, Nielsen reports.

* The brown resurgence is being led by Bourbons, doubling its dollar growth rate of a year ago, but is also boosted by gains from the Canadian Whiskey, Blended Whiskey and Irish Whiskey segments.

* Whiskey sales increase sharply at the back end of the year in the US, with weekly dollar sales in November and December as much as double the annual average and share of total spirits increasing by five percentage points to more than 35 per cent. Consumers spend more on brown spirits as the temperature drops, hence meaning that mid-year sales are typically strong in Australia, while the US gets an end of year holiday boost.

* Despite the struggling economy, ultra-premium products, with an average price of approximately US$45 per bottle, continue to record the strongest growth rates among brown spirits.

* Whiskey sales are trending upward in 27 other countries around the globe, recording double digit growth in 12 countries, including Venezuela, Russia, Netherlands, Poland, Mexico, Turkey and Bulgaria. In Australia, they rose by a mere 1% last year, while pre-mixed alcohol sales were escalating. This year, however, pre-mixed drinks (alcopops) have had growth stalled by the introduction of higher taxes, with reports suggesting that this has helped boost the sales of spirits.

“Brown is back,” Danny Brager, vice president of Beverage Alcohol at The Nielsen Company, proclaimed. “Consumers and bar managers tell us that brown’s ‘mixability’ and rich taste, along with increased consumer knowledge are contributing to the brown spirits comeback.”