It’s Monday morning at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Jeff Arnett and I are already on our fifth whiskey of the day. We’ve only had a nip of each for tasting purposes of course, but it’s enough to give our cheeks a glow. When our sixth glass arrives, Arnett’s eyes widen. This is Jack Daniel’s first new product in more than a decade and Jack’s master distiller is very excited.
Brand owner Brown-Forman has high hopes for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which hit the shelves of Tesco last month and will roll out to the rest of the mults in the coming weeks. This despite the whiskey liqueur market not being an easy nut to crack - the honey-flavoured extension Jim Beam launched in March has barely made a mark in the off-trade and sales of Brown-Forman’s other big whiskey liqueur brand, Southern Comfort, are declining.
So, why the optimism around Tennessee Honey? Well, it tastes pretty good for a start. “It’s almost like having a slice of pecan pie in your glass of Jack Daniel’s Old No 7,” says Arnett as he takes a sip. “It’s got a sweet, nutty taste but it’s still unmistakably Jack. Our biggest seller by far is Old No 7. People say the second best seller is the T-shirts. Well Tennessee Honey’s for the people who wear the T-shirts but haven’t drunk the whiskey.”
Yet. Since Tennessee Honey’s US launch in April 2011 it’s won over legions of new drinkers who were familiar with the JD brand but not regular whiskey drinkers. True to a saying they have in Lynchburg, Arnett says Tennessee Honey is aimed more at the ‘LDAs’ (legal-drinking-aged) than the mature palates of the ‘DNDs’ (damn-near-dead).
It’s hit the target, says John Hayes, senior VP and Jack Daniel’s MD: “The US was pretty soft in the previous three years, but we’ve come out of that extremely well in the past year. We’ve sold over 400,000 cases in the past fiscal year, which makes it the number-one US spirits launch of last year.”
That equates to roughly $70m of incremental growth in Jack’s most established market. Impressive stuff. As is the fact that the volume of Tennessee Honey shifted in the US in its first year isn’t far off the total sales (465,000 cases) of Jack’s UK brands - Old No 7, pre-mix Jack & Cola, Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel - sold through the British off-trade last year [Nielsen 52 w/e 23 June 2012].
Bringing Tennessee Honey to Britain will help accelerate the 10% value and 4.5% volume growth Jack Daniel’s experienced last year and put further momentum behind Britain’s £137.9m American whiskey sub-category [Nielsen], according to Fiona Burles, Brown-Forman’s marketing director for the UK and Eire. “We’re committed to future-proofing Jack Daniel’s brand equity,” she says. “Our research suggests that Tennessee Honey can recruit consumers who feel a bit intimidated by a full-blown 43% abv whiskey.”
The opportunity isn’t without its challenges. The aforementioned Jim Beam Honey hasn’t won shelf space in the mults yet, but black cherry variant Red Stag has racked up off-trade sales of £1.8m since its launch last June [Nielsen]. By targeting hip youngsters through live music, owner Maxxium says it’s built a loyal following in the on-trade too.
That’s exactly the demographic Jack Daniel’s is going for. And with the continuing JD Roots campaign, in which the brand sponsors gigs for up and coming indie bands, the rivalry between Jack and Jim looks set to escalate. But Brown-Forman is confident of coming out on top. “With the launch of Honey, we’ll be continuing our investment above the line because we know our consumers love hearing stories about the brand,” says Burles. “We’ll build our equity with experiential activity that celebrates our music heritage. We will be having a lot of fun with Tennessee Honey from October.”
Burles is certainly buzzing. And given the mounting enquiries from desperate Jack fans about Honey stockists on Facebook, the buzz seems to be spreading.