Hennessy CognacBusiness

Premium spirits triumph in a COVID-challenged market

Younger, urban, and more affluent consumers who are relatively comfortable in the “new normal” COVID-challenged world are driving a global premium spirits boom.

In the US alone, a demand surge has seen Patrón sales up 40% and Hennessy sales up 38% in the year to date at November 1 according to IRI channel data.

Nielsen also reported tequila up overall was up 55.5%, Cognac up 56.2%, and ready-to-drink cocktails up 13% for September and October.

“A trend we see is an accelerated rate of buying premium brands,” Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverages and alcohol at Nielsen, told the New York Times. “Consumers are trading up and spending more, and it’s a trend that’s been accelerated since the pandemic started.”

Hennessy Cognac; premium spirits

It’s even led to shortages in the US, with Corey Bronstein, senior vice president and general manager of New Jersey wholesaler Allied Beverage Group, telling SevenFifty: “We were simply out of stock on key brands. We’ve never seen increases like this, especially in Cognac which is a bear to keep in stock—primarily Hennessey, Rémy and D’Ussé.”

A spokesperson for Patrón said the pandemic “is changing the frequency of bottling, which is causing an inventory shortage across the US. There’s still plenty of Patrón but due to the pandemic, the 60 hands that make every bottle need a little more time and space.”

Patron tequila; premium spirits

Similarly, a Diageo spokesperson said: “With the continued high demand of Crown Royal in recent months, coupled with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our production in terms of protocols and precautions, a handful of our bestselling whiskies may be temporarily out of stock in some US locations. We are working to resolve this as soon as possible.”

Though the full impacts of COVID-19 are still unknown, the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reports that ‘status’ spirits (brands retailing US$100 or more) are growing faster than the total spirits market.

The current value of the status spirits market is $8.3-billion (not including the baijiu category), with the category increasing at a value compound annual growth rate of 7% (2014-2018), far outpacing the total global spirits market growth at 2% CAGR.

Overall, findings showed that status spirits are outgrowing lower-end options. Cognac and Scotch, two established categories of status-driven spirits, are a strong driving force of this growth.

The study breaks status spirits into categories: “affordable luxury”, encompassing spirits in the $100 to $1,000 range, and “ultra-prestige”, counting bottles that price upwards of $1,000. The most value sits in the $100-250 bracket, the IWSR reports, though the $250 to $1,000 segment is expected to see quick growth on the horizon.

Mark Meek, CEO at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, said: “It’s a unique and nuanced sector which has definitely benefited from the general trend towards premiumization, and also by the younger generation who continue to seek out luxury and find it in high-end spirits.”

The IWSR also underlined the resilience of luxury spirits in the aftermath of economic downturns. During the 2008 and 2012 periods, global prestige-plus spirits (accounting for spirits $100+) grew 82% in volume, and almost reaching 230% in value.

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