Spirits Consumption Market Share: Then and Now

In honor the 25th anniversary of Cheers, a sister publication in the company, we decided to take a look at how the beverage alcohol industry has changed since Cheers was founded in 1990. How much has changed during that time?

A quarter-century ago, the newest of today’s legal drinking age adults weren’t even born. Some of today’s leading brands hadn’t even been dreamt of yet, and the marketplace was about to undergo major changes.

Using data from the Beverage Information & Insight Group Handbooks, we can analyze historical sales data going back to just after the end of Prohibition. For the purposes of this story, we’ll compare spirits consumption data from 1990 and 2014 (A more detailed analysis, complete with updates in five-year increments, will be available next year at www.bevresearch.wpengine.com for anyone who’s interested).


Data Source: BIIG’s Liquor Handbook 1990 and Liquor Handbook 2014

Shifts in consumer tastes

In 1990, vodka held a commanding lead among spirits for market share (22%, or 35m cases), but Canadian whisky, rum, cordials/liqueurs, scotch and straight whiskeys were all competing for second place. Total spirit case sales that year were 159.2 million, comprised of 60m whiskey and 99.2m other spirits.

In 2014, vodka has increased its share to 34% of the market (with 73.4m cases). Rum has replaced Canadian whisky as the U.S. number-two spirit, with cordials/liqueurs and straight whiskey close behind. Canadian whisky and Scotch have seen significant decreases in market share, as have gins, blended whiskeys and ready-to-drink beverages. Irish whiskey has ticked up to 1% of the market, but most of the growth not absorbed by vodka and rum has gone to the tequila category.

Preliminary sales data for 2014 shows case sales of 215.3 million (a 35% increase since 1990), with 50.9m cases of whiskey sold and 164.4m cases of other spirits. In other words, whiskey case sales have declined 15%, while all other spirits have increased 66% during the same timeframe.  Vodka, by far the biggest driver of that growth, has seen a 108% increase in case sales during the past 25 years.

Shuffling among the top brands

In addition to looking at case sales over time, our analysis of the last quarter-century will follow the top brands as they were created, discontinued, sold or otherwise changed over time. For example, here’s a list of the top brands in 1990, listed by supplier at the time. How many are still top brands (or even exist today)? Stay tuned, there’s more to come in 2015.

  • Bacardi Imports: Bacardi Rum, Bacardi Breezer RTD, Castillo Rum.
  • Heublein: Smirnoff Vodka, Popov Vodka, Jose Cuervo Tequila, Black Velvet Canadian, Christian Brothers Brandy, Club Cocktails RTD, Arrow Cordials, Relska Vodka, Wild Turkey, Heublein Cocktails RTD, Finlandia Vodka.
  • House of Seagram: Seagram’s 7 Crown Blend, Seagram’s Gin, Seagram’s VO Canadian, Crown Royal Canadian, Kessler Blend, Lord Calvert Canadian, Wolfschmidt Vodka, Chivas Regal Scotch, Leroux Cordials, Ronrico Rum, Captain Morgan Rum, Canadian Hunter, Calvert Extra Blend, Passport Scotch, Myers’s Original Rum.
  • Brown-Forman Beverages: Canadian Mist, Jack Daniel’s Black, Early Times, Southern Comfort, Usher’s Scotch, Korbel Brandy.
  • Jim Beam Brands: Jim Beam, DeKuyper Cordials, Windsor Supreme Canadian, Kamchatka (w/ Heublein), Gilbey’s Vodka, Gilbey’s Gin, Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, Beam’s 8 Star, Canada House.
  • Carillon Importers: Absolut Vodka, Grand Marnier.
  • E&J Gallo Winery: E&J Brandy
  • Hiram Walker: Canadian Club, Hiram Walker Cordials, Beefeater Gin.
  • Schenley Industries: Gordon’s vodka, Dewar’s Scotch, Gordon’s Gin, Old Charter Straight, Canadian MacNaughton.
  • Maidstone: Kahlua.
  • Glenmore Distilleries: Skol vodka, Fleischmann’s Vodka, Scoresby Scotch, Canadian LTD, Fleischmann’s Gin, Boston Cordials, Fleischmann’s Preferred Blend, Old Thompson Blend.

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