sheepdog whiskey

While North American Whiskey is in a slight decline, the flavoured whiskey category is continuing to record incredible growth.

It might not make the purists happy, but it remains an undeniable truth: flavoured whiskey is on the march, as Jack O’Neill, Brand Manager at SouthTrade International, explains.

“North American Whiskey (NAW) is declining at three per cent by moveable annual total (MAT). Flavoured whiskies within NAW are generally outperforming traditional bourbons,” O’Neill says.

“Flavoured whiskey is growing at plus seven per cent on the quarter, versus flat growth for total NAW on the quarter.”

O’Neill has had first-hand experience of this growth at SouthTrade, witnessing the meteoric rise of brands like Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and Sheep Dog Peanut Butter Whiskey.

“Fireball is growing at 27 per cent MAT, nine times faster than the category. Sheep Dog, having only been in the market for just over a year, is growing at 377 per cent on the quarter,” he said.

O’Neill believes that its the brands that bring a fresh and fun feel into the category that are contributing the most to category growth, especially with younger adult generations.

“Brands like Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and Sheep Dog Peanut Butter Whiskey are standing out from the crowd by bringing personality to a traditional category,” O’Neill says.

“Fireball, Wild Turkey American Honey, and Southern Comfort all sit within top 10 performing North American Whiskies.

“Younger drinkers are open to trying new products [and] steering away from legacy brands, or whiskey their parents would drink. Flavoured whiskies over-index with millennial consumers who are open to trying new flavours and taste profiles in whiskey. We see these brands as a gateway to traditional bourbon, bringing consumers along their journey with whiskey.”

Smaller format bottles are performing particularly well in these categories in the retail arena.

“Smaller formats like 50ml and 200ml are driving trial ­– lower price point makes them more accessible to first time purchasers,” O’Neill says.

This phenomenon may be a response to on-premise trends, with the smaller format products recreating the same ‘shot occasion’ in the off-premise retail sector.

Furthermore, O’Neill also sees a significant shift in buying patterns, driven by the flavoured whiskey category, as he says: “Brands like Fireball are evolving the way people think about buying whiskey, with consumers taking a bottle to a party to be shared with friends, as opposed to traditional whiskey that is purchased as more of a pantry fill item.”

This trend was sparked in the US, which remains the market in which innovation is occurring according to O’Neill. He predicted similiar products will start appearing in Australia, although slightly tweaked for local palates, and that this will also impact the RTD category.

“The US market is leading the way with new and interesting flavours in the whiskey category. Brands like Howler Head Banana bourbon and Crown Royal Apple are branching into new flavours that more palatable for a younger audience new to whiskey,” O’Neill said.

“Trends in full bottled spirit North American whiskey category are making their way into the premix category with innovation like Southern Comfort Hard Apple and Hard Peach, and American Honey + Cola.”

Interested in the performance and opportunities of other North American drinks in the Australian market? Check out the June issue of National Liquor News.

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