• Spirits volumes in the US rise by 2.3% year-on-year in 2015
  • Supplier sales climb by 4.1%
  • Export volumes increase 3.4%
  • Total supplier sales leap 106% between 2000 and 2015, to $24.1bn
American whiskey was among 2015s star performers, according to DISCUS

American whiskey was among 2015's star performers, according to DISCUS

US spirits trade organisation the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) held its annual spirits briefing in New York yesterday. Here, just-drinks takes a look at the key takeaways from the event. 

  • Spirits rule the roost

The spirits segment continues to gain market share over total alcohol in the US - the category now account for 35.4% of total alcohol supplier sales - up from 34.3% in 2012. The spirits sector achieved a slight increase in market share relative to beer for the sixth straight year in 2015, says DISCUS. Total market share gains by spirits compared to beer since 2000 totaled 6.7 points, with each point of market share equalling approximately $680m in supplier sales, for a total of $4.6bn.

  • All hail American whiskey

The overall American whiskey category, including Bourbon, rye and Tennesee whiskey, was up by 7.8% last year. Export volumes increased 4% in the year, against an overall spirits export volumes increase of 3.4%. DISCUS also highlighted the effect of American whiskey's popularity on the farming industry. Corn used in spirits production increased 176%, while rye for spirits was up by 64% between 2010 and 2014, according to information from the US Department of Treasury's Tax & Trade Bureau. Estimates also suggest rye increased a further 60% in 2015. 

Boom-time for Bourbon et al hasn't gone unnoticed. Analyst Vivien Azer from Cowen & Co recently highlighted the shift to more flavourful spirits - a trend she expects to continue. 

  • Pitch your spirit above premium

While volume growth in the value segment was flat in 2015, at 0.1%, and growth was only slightly better for premium at +1%, volume growth for 'high-end' spirits was 7.1%, with super-premium only slightly behind at 6.5%. DISCUS defines super-premium as $30+ at retail. Categories such as US whiskey saw super-premium volumes leap by 25.2% last year, while super-premium blended Scotch grew 11.1%, super-premium Tequila was up 12.5% and super-premium Cognac was up 20.3% against an overall volume increase for Cognac of 14%. However, Nomura analyst Ian Shackleton noted that vodka's super-premium loss of 13.2% partly offset strong growth elsewhere.

  • Where to export

The top export markets by dollar value in 2015 were: The UK (+US$47.6m), Latvia (+$19.8m), Vietnam (+$11.3m), Japan (+$8.6m), Panama (+$5.3m) and Dominican Republic (+$4.1m).

DISCUS's SVP for international trade, Christine LoCascio, outlined ten export markets to watch in 2016. They are: UK, Japan, Latvia, Panama, Vietnam, South Africa, China, Dominican Republic, Brazil and Taiwan.

  • Social responsibility

2015 Federal data shows that underage and binge drinking are at "record lows", according to DISCUS. There is also a downward trend in drink-driving fatalities, especially in the under-21s, where they reached a record low in 2014. The notion that younger LDA consumers are drinking less has been echoed throughout the trade - recent research from Heineken shows that Millennials don't want to get drunk and, among other things, embarrass themselves on social media. 

  • Evolving distribution

DISCUS SVP for economic & strategic analysis, David Ozgo, predicts 2016 will bring wholesaler realignment and consolidation in the US. In January, Southern Wine & Spirits announced plans to merge with Glazers and Breakthru Beverage Group, the result of a part-merger between alcoholic drinks wholesalers The Charmer Sunbelt Group and Wirtz Beverage, became operational at the start of the year. Following the DISCUS event, Nomura's Shackleton noted: "DISCUS sees consolidation improving the access to consumers." He added that Nomura had recently noted consolidation could lead to the "development of two more aligned systems in US wine and spirit wholesaling," which he believes could create efficiency gains for the industry. 

  • Millennial mention

The Millennial voyage of discovery is pushing innovation and premiumisation in the spirits segment, according to DISCUS. As well as new brands, we have recently seen long-established brands such as Diageo's Smirnoff, look to chase Millennial money. 2015's buzzword is set to continue into this year.

  • Craft and heritage

Whether you like the word or not, the craft movement continues to be a key contributor to the steady growth of the US spirits industry, says DISCUS. The number of micro-distilleries has gone from 92 in 2010 to around 750 in 2015, according to the trade group. But, Ozgo adds a word of caution: "Some will flourish, some will fail. Some will be acquired." On the overall heritage picture, consumer fascination with provenance looks to be "dovetailing with spirits' authentic heritage," he says.

  • Home run for home-trade

DISCUS predicts that delivery services will grow markedly in 2016. The likes of Drizly, Minibar and Amazon have been making great leaps to ensure home delivery meets consumer demands. From Drizly's recent partnership with food-focused social network Allrecipes to have both alcohol and ingredients delivered to the door, to Amazon's one-hour delivery service, drinking at home has never been so convenient for consumers to organise.

  • The health debate will continue

New US dietary guidelines define moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and up to two per day for men. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 document also outlines drink equivalents, which show how different strengths of beer, wine and spirits compare. And, of course, there's a section on calories. Above all, though, the guidelines show that moderate drinking can be part of a healthy adult diet.