Irish Whiskey's Growth Not Just About Luck

Irish whiskey has been one of the fastest-growing spirits categories over the past few years, and its growth isn't just a matter of luck.


Instead, it's the fruit of a dedicated push to support the brands and tap into an increased willingness for consumers to experiment with whiskies.

While total volume remains small relative to other spirits, Irish whiskey's annual sales rose 18.1 percent last year, surpassing the 1 million case mark, continuing its streak of robust growth in recent years, according to Beverage Information Group in Norwalk, Conn.

"The taste profile of Irish whiskey is very smooth," said Wayne Hartunian, a brand director for Pernod Ricard's Jameson Irish Whiskey. "That makes it much more approachable for someone who has not tried brown spirits before."

Typically, Irish whiskey is not as smoky as a Scotch, but not as sweet as American and Canadian whiskies.

Spirits companies are throwing more marketing support behind their Irish whiskey brands. That's true of Pernod Ricard, which has made Jameson one of its focus brands.

Pernod increased its advertising spending by 7.4 percent to about $5.35 million in 2008, according to Beverage Information.

Hartunian expects sales growth to continue to accelerate.

That's good news for Jameson, which accounts for about two-thirds of all Irish whiskey sales and has been growing at a faster pace than the broader category. Last year, sales volume of Jameson rose 25.6 percent to 678,000 cases, according to Beverage Information Group.

True to the Jameson family motto "Sine Metu," the brand is facing the recession "without fear."

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Although the current economic slowdown, has tamed some of the overall growth in spirits sales industry-wide, it hasn't hurt Jameson sales.

"Our consumer tends to be 'pre-commitment,'" says Hartunian, speaking of 25-to-34-year-old males that tend to drink Jameson. "They are not married. They don't have a mortgage...They are not getting hit as hard (by the economic downturn)...We haven't really seen much impact even as things have worsened with the economy."

That message was part of an advertising campaign Jameson has run with the retail trade that highlights its strong track record in recent months.

As for consumers, the days surrounding St. Patrick's Day are an important period for the brand. (Sales on that day are significant, even though loyal consumers drink Irish whiskeys year-round.)

Jameson had a number of promotions specifically tied to the holiday, including events at bars, and a radio-based event where DJs were flown out to Dublin to broadcast from the Old Jameson Distillery.

This year, the company also brought back an outdoor projection-media advertisement it used in December. In high-traffic areas in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, messages were projected onto walls to grab the attention of young adults as they hit the bars and clubs for the evening. In some areas, the messages were written by a copywriter who typed them out real-time in order to interact with those passing by.

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