The Fastest Growing Spirit Brands and Top Trends of 2017

Keeping up with hundreds (if not thousands) of new product releases every year is a daunting task for retailers. How can members of the trade know which products to stock, which to drop and which to keep a close eye on? This year’s list of 129 Growth Brands is a good place to start, as these wine and spirit brands have all managed to stand out in a crowded marketplace and gain consumers’ trust.

We’re proud to honor these brands in four categories: Rising Star, Fast Track, Established Growth and Comeback. Their sales increases in 2017 were integral to the overall success and continued growth of the beverage alcohol industry.

We spoke to many of this year’s winners about what made them successful, from activation programs and packaging changes to new introductions and line extensions. These wines and spirits serve as an example for newcomers to follow, and for industry veterans to emulate.

Beverage Wholesaler congratulates all 48 spirit and 81 wine winners, who will be honored during a reception at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Convention in Las Vegas on April 30. Here are the wine winners.

Distilling Success

According to the Beverage Information & Insights Group, distilled spirits sales increased 2.3% in 2017 to more than 226 million nine-liter cases, continuing a growth trend for the industry that goes back more than two decades. While gin and rum sales saw another year of decline and vodka saw tepid growth, tequila and whiskey sales increased yet again.

This years list of Growth Brands winners includes 48 brands in four categories: Rising Stars, Fast Track Brands, Established Growth Brands and Comeback Brands. Together, they represent more than 57 million cases sold in 2017. The biggest brands on the list are Crown Royal and Titos, which together sold more than 10 million cases. Close behind are New Amsterdam, Jim Beam, Fireball, Svedka and Hennessy.

This years Supplier of the Year, Brown-Forman, had eight spirits brands on the list.

How did these winning brands achieve their sustained growth in 2017? Some utilized creative activation programs, some expanded their distribution area, some released line extensions to appeal to new consumers and some are capitalizing on current industry and consumer trends.

Whiskeys Lead the Pack

Established Growth Brand and Hall of Famer Crown Royal grew 8.5% last year, with nearly 5.8 million cases sold. The brand has expanded every year recently with new line extensions, including vanilla and the popular Regal Apple. In 2017, Crown Royal focused its advertising on charitable promotions and giving back.

One of our most successful off-premise initiatives was the ‘Gift That Gives Back’ promotion in support of the troops, says Michelle Sibley, associate manager of culture and partnerships at Diageo. The brand encouraged consumers to donate Crown Royal bags they had collected and then we, in partnership with Packages From Home, sent donations to the troops.

Crown Royal also partnered with the NFL in 2017, running ads on television and in stadiums. That sports tie-in will continue in 2018.

Well continue to lean into programming that brings to life our brand purpose and focuses on generosity, Sibley says. From iconic Super Bowl activations to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we want to show up at key moments in a big way.

Three American Whiskeys from Beam Sutory won Established Growth Brands Awards this year – Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Knob Creek.

We continue to enjoy the Bourbon Boom of recent years and feel bullish on the growth of the category for years to come, says VP of Whiskey Rob Mason. There remains strong interest in premium offerings, including LTOs, as consumers enjoy exploring the category and discovering new and unique production styles and taste profiles.

To reach the on-premise, Jim Beam continued its partnership with baseball teams in multiple markets, engaging baseball fans at stadiums and sports bars. Jim Beam Black also worked with top barbers in a multi-city barbershop experience.

Knob Creek continued to stand out as a bartender favorite for classic whiskey cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Mason says. We also expanded our partnership with Big Green EGG in 2017 for a Whiskey & EGGs roadshow using meat, smoke and whiskey, inviting event-goers to discover Knob Creek.

Off-Premise, Makers Mark bolstered its presence on shelf with the addition of locally relevant cross-merchandising displays, with partners including Rachels Ginger Beer in Seattle and Root 23 in Columbus.

Fellow Bourbon Woodford Reserve was a Fast Track brand again this year, joining its line extensions Reserve Rye and Double Oaked on the list (both were Rising Stars). The brand highlighted gifting periods off-premise, including Fathers Day and Christmas, offering engraving programs, personalized labels and gifts with purchase (like a cut crystal Old Fashioned glass).

William Grants Monkey Shoulder used the rise of blended whisky to appeal directly to bartenders.

More bartenders are aware of the versatility and range of blended malts and what they can offer in a cocktail, says Brand Manager RJ Whittington. The growth of the greater whiskey category in the U.S. is contributing to the brands growth as more consumers are interested in lesser-known, high-quality whisky with unique stories.

Monkey Shoulder also recently launched its first large-scale consumer activation in the U.S. with Monkey Mixer, a giant, mobile cocktail-pouring machine (based on a cement mixer) that will travel throughout the U.S. in 2018.

Three-year old Redemption Rye from Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits grew more than 60% in 2017 and earned itself a Rising Star award. Ryes resurgence is a logical extension of todays cocktail culture as consumers return to vintage favorites, according to Spirits VP Susan Kilgore.

Redemption has been successful at penetrating some of the most influential cocktail accounts in the country, and the brands growth is being led on-premise, she adds. We activated a program around Repeal Day that included a recipe contest, a podcast sponsorship on the rise and fall of Prohibition and on-premise trivia events.

Bright Spots in Down Categories

While there were more whiskey winners than any other spirits category this year, some vodka, rum and gin brands stood out as well. They include a mix of perennial category leaders and newcomers that are reshaping the market.

Hall of Famer Svedka Vodka launched its blue raspberry flavor in 2017, which helped the brand grow 2% to 4.4 million cases. Our new flavor was inspired by the palate of thrill seekers who crave extreme flavors, a trend seen across the food and beverage space sought after by Millennials, says VP of Marketing Carl Evans. Throughout 2017 we continued to highlight Svedka as a brand that combines quality vodka, flavor innovation, high-impact packaging and a distinctive personality.

Fast Track winner Western Son Vodka, which nearly doubled its sales to 101,000 cases in 2017, is taking advantage of consumer interest in American vodka.

Our premium Texas vodka has experienced exceptional growth as consumers look for quality and crafted products that arent mass-produced, says Marketing Director Matt Krocheski. Were continuing to build our footprint on-premise with our signature cocktails and Western Mule programs.

Fishbowl Brands Blue Chair Bay Rum was a Rising Star again this year, selling 139,000 cases and growing more than 72% in 2017.

Theres a lot of interest right now in cream liqueurs, which was formerly dominated by one brand, says Marketing Director Monica Gray. We feel weve contributed to the innovation over the last few years in a big way. To our knowledge, we have the only line of fruit-flavored rum creams in the market and theyre doing exceptionally well.

The Key Lime flavor was recently launched with a campaign called Key to the Keys, which engaged consumers through social media and using partner Kenny Chesney. The launch of Key Lime Rum Cream increased awareness and case sales of our other flavors, Gray adds.

Market Street Spirits Brinley Gold Shipwreck rum increased sales 8% last year to 27,000 cases, taking advantage of premiumization in the rum category.

Consumers are seeking and appreciating higher-quality rums like Brinleys Shipwreck, says VP of Marketing Mike Wolff. Consumers are finding their appreciation for boutique quality – especially Millennials who connect with Brinleys authentic, award-winning rums craft with all-natural ingredients by the father-and-son team Bob and Zach Brinley.

While most of the gin category is down, especially when it comes to off-premise sales, William Grants Hendricks grew 10% last year to more than 350,000 cases and won a Fast Track Brand award.

Theres been a significant trend toward consumer interest in finding categories and brands that focus on flavor, says Senior Brand Manager Darius Hines. With our unique flavor profile featuring the essence of cucumber and rose, we created the super-premium gin category and are bringing in new consumers. Many of those consumers are taking a bottle home to create simple and classic cocktail recipes that they sampled on-premise, he adds.

Flavored Spirits and Liqueurs Rise

Joining brandmates Jack Daniels Country Cocktails and Jack Daniels Tennessee Rye (a Rising Star in its debut year), Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey is an Established Growth Brand this year, selling more than 700,000 cases.

The biggest news for us in 2017 was our official partnership with the NBA, says Brand Director Casey Nelson. We deployed a wide range of assets and tools to activate at retail – truck wraps, display programs, trade incentives and consumer activations to engage friends of Jack and fans of the NBA.

The brand also launched a global campaign called Friendly Introduction, which shows how JD Tennessee Honey recruits new consumers to the Jack Daniels brand. Since it launched in 2011, more than 100 other flavored whiskeys have entered the now-crowded marketplace.

Sazeracs Fireball continued its meteoric rise in 2017, growing 6.5% to nearly 4.9 million cases sold. Senior Marketing Director Rebecca Henry attributes the brands success to the support and dedication of its loyal fans, leading Fireball promotions to be centered around making them happy and giving them what they ask for.

Now a Campari America brand, Grand Marnier was a Comeback winner once again due to a 5.7% growth to more than 500,000 cases in 2017.

Since the brand is 51% Cognac, were benefiting from a halo effect of the booming category, says VP of Marketing Melanie Batchelor. Secondly, were benefiting from the resurgence of classic cocktails. Grand Marnier has a historic place in many well-known cocktails from the Moonwalker to the Sidecar to the Margarita. Were excited to help a new generation of bartenders discover the depth and complexity that the brand can bring to any crafted cocktail.

In 2017, Grand Marniers focus was on-premise, including reconnecting with bartenders, regaining menu placements and creating bar tools for making classic cocktails.

We also worked on improving our brand education materials and cocktail materials, which are also available on social media, Batchelor adds. We have a great opportunity to drive the message that Grand Marnier is 51% Cognac and 49% bitter orange liqueur, which is a unique base that delivers depth and flavor complexity to any cocktail.

Jeremy Nedelka is an editor of Beverage Wholesaler magazine. Reach him at


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