In 2013, there were four distilleries in Ireland producing and selling Irish whiskey. By August 2017, the number of operational whiskey distilleries in Ireland had increased to 18 with plans for another 16 in the works according to the Irish Whiskey Association.
A thousand or so years ago when the first Irish whiskies were being distilled no-one could have imagined the spectacular growth of the category. The modern history or Irish whiskey has been fraught with challenges. The Irish independence struggles of the early 1900s resulted in Irish whiskey being cut off from the biggest Commonwealth market, while US Prohibition in the 1920s and ‘30s (and the fact that returning American GIs had developed a taste for Scotch in the US market) brought the Irish distilling industry to its knees for much of the 20th century.
The past few years have been a gold rush, with fortunes of the segment changing dramatically. In 2013 there were four distilleries in Ireland producing and selling Irish whiskey. By August 2017, the number of operational whiskey distilleries in Ireland had increased to 18, with plans for another 16 in the works, according to the Irish Whiskey Association. The IWSR shows that between 2013 and 2017, global Irish whiskey sales jumped by as much as 39%. Jameson holds the lion’s share of volume, even with new entrants to the category flooding the market.
The turning point can be traced to Pernod Ricard’s 1988 purchase of Irish Distillers and more specifically the Jameson brand. Assuming a sales increase this year, the brand will have registered its 30th year of growth and has almost singlehandedly taken the Irish whiskey category to where it sits today. Recently published results for 2017-2018 from Pernod Ricard show another year of global double-digit growth.
With a surge of new Irish whiskey brands flooding the market, it would be a fair to assume some impact on Jameson sales. This has happened in other categories like in the UK, when leading gin brand Gordon’s saw its market share drop by nearly -10% between 2011 and 2016 as gin fever gripped the market and new product development reached a crescendo. In the US, Budweiser has seen its share slip by just over -4% between 2013 and 2017 as the craft movement puts down roots.
This has not been the case for Jameson, which not only recorded strong volume growth between 2013 and 2017, but has seen its share of the global market rise from 64% to 69%. In the US, where many of the new Irish whiskey products are landing, share has risen from 76% of the market to 79%. However, Pernod Ricard has acknowledged the future threat posed by the introduction of so many very high-quality products and the emergence of a craft-style segment and are responding. Method and Madness Irish whiskey was unveiled in 2017 and is expected to debut in the US in 2020.
The resilience of the brand can be attributed to its global brand recognition and steady marketing efforts, not to mention innovation efforts. Jameson is the first Irish whiskey brand that many consumers are exposed to and the brand remains the stepping stone to other Irish whiskies.
Irish whiskey may be making a lot of noise, but it still makes up less than 7% of whisky sales in the US and just 2.5% of overall global whisky volumes. Many pubs, bars and other retailers around the world will stock just one Irish whiskey and that is generally Jameson. Like Guinness is to stout, Jameson is the leading brand of Irish whiskey.