As select sub-categories within the U.S. beer market found pockets of growth amid a challenging consumer environment in 2018, the U.S. spirit market performed well holistically throughout the year. In fact, the spirits category was the strongest performer across all adult beverages this past year within U.S. on-premise channels (i.e., bars, restaurants, etc.) tracked by Nielsen CGA, delivering dollar sales growth of 2.1%. Most of this on-premise growth came from the rising popularity of brands within the ultra and premium price tiers, which, over the past year, experienced dollar sales growth of 3.1% and 2.0%, respectively. Within off-premise (retail) channels, the total spirits category grew dollar sales by 2.8% from a year ago.
In 2018, tequila led the spirits category in volume and value growth across both on- and off-premise outlets in the U.S. Within off-premise channels, white/silver tequila, the largest subcategory, drove the highest percent growth versus last year, while mezcal, a smaller subcategory, posted the highest growth rate. Within the on-premise market, volume sales of tequila increased 7.1%, with tequila’s strongest performance in 2018 was seen in independent and dining accounts across the U.S. While all tequila varieties posted growth in 2018, añejo, reposado and white sliver contributed most to the overall category growth.
While tequila outperformed other spirit categories, whiskey also experienced a strong year within restaurants, bars and at retail. Driven largely by straight bourbon within retail outlets, whiskey grew more than 5% from the prior year. Blended Irish whiskey and American rye whiskey also posted double-digit growth within the total whiskey category, but they contributed fewer dollars than bourbon. Within restaurants and bars, whiskey experienced strong volume growth of 1.3% compared with the previous year. Bourbon and Irish whiskey contributed most to whiskey growth in 2018, with volume increases of 2.6% and 6.3%, respectively, and will be worth watching in 2019.