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Brown-Forman CEO: ‘Craft’ not dominant in American whiskey

Brown-Forman CEO Lawson Whiting has said the predicted takeover of the American whiskey category by “craft” brands “just hasn’t come true” and many small players are going out of business in the US.

Brown-Forman’s whiskey brands include Jack Daniel’s

Speaking to The Spirits Business last month, Whiting said that despite the growth of smaller, independent whiskey distilleries in the US, large-scale producers such as Brown-Forman have retained their market share.

“There were so many people four to five years ago saying craft is going to dominate the big brands, and that just hasn’t come true,” he said, adding that a mix of inexperience, lack of funds and small-scale distribution means many smaller players are being forced to close in the US.

“You’ve got to build a brand with more than what I call ‘place’. A brand has to have personality and something more than a zip code.

“A lot of these brands were built on ‘think local, buy local’, but they were charging higher prices, and their whiskey was either mass-produced or it wasn’t very good.

“We also ran into a lot of craft whiskey makers that tried to accelerate the process by throwing staves in a barrel. There was a lot of bad whiskey out there, and a lot of these brands have gone bankrupt.”

While Whiting is not too concerned by the craft movement, he noted that the number of big brands entering the American whiskey category was of greater concern for the company.

“We still have high market share but it always does leave a lot of competition, and it’s not getting any easier,” he added.

Last month, the Jack Daniel’s producer reported a 2% net sales increase for its 2019 fiscal year, however tariff pressures “negatively impacted” the company’s growth.

For the full interview with Brown-Forman’s Whiting, see the July issue of The Spirits Business magazine, out now.

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