Smirnoff and Bacardi may still be the largest brands in the spirits industry, but it’s smaller and more health-conscious names such as Skinnygirl Cocktails getting the most growth.
Volume sales from the top 250 liquor brands grew 3.1% last year, according to research group Technomic. The brands generate 88% of the industry's nearly 200 million 9-liter cases and 89% of its dollar sales.
Longtime products such as Captain Morgan rum, Jack Daniel's whiskey and Absolut vodka still dominate the market. Vodka is the top seller, followed by cordials, liqueurs, rum and whiskey.
Even though top-shelf, standard booze still does well (see Stoli's new $3,000 bottle of vodka), drinkers have been imbibing more flavored options with sweet and spicy tastes. Lower-priced liquors, especially vodka, are increasingly popular.
In February, research company NPD Group found that Grey Goose is the most popular vodka brand among men and women, followed by Absolut, Smirnoff, Ketel One and Stoli. In commercial settings such as bars and restaurants, 36% of beverages ordered by consumers contain alcohol.
The Distilled Spirits Council said earlier this year that sales in the industry grew 4% in 2011 to $19.9 billion, claiming 33.6% of the total alcoholic beverage market.
Part of the shift mirrors the artisan, craft sensibility currently reshaping the beer market. Karlsson's new $80 vintage vodka – made from potatoes harvested in 2008 – is currently making a splash
Another factor is consumers' increasing consideration of health and ingredient sourcing.
Hence the rise of Skinnygirl’s low-calorie sangrias, margaritas and cosmos. The brand, created by reality TV show star
E&J Gallo's Familia Camarena Tequila, made from blue agave, is up 233%. Malibu Prepared Cocktails, Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and Rokk Vodka all enjoyed triple-digit increases.