May 16, 2022

A promotions scheme led by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (Discus) resulted in a significant increase in exports for smaller craft distillers last year despite the persistence of Covid measures in many parts of the world.

Discus activities, in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), enabled smaller liquor players across the country to score more than $875,000 in new exports of American spirits products.

craft distillers discus
How US spirits exports have been affected by tariffs and Covid.

Charles McEntee, Discus director for export promotion, commented: “US craft distillers have greatly benefited from our partnership with the USDA to promote American spirits. It is a concrete example of the effectiveness of public-private partnerships and illustrates how this programme can assist small businesses across the United States.”

Craft distillers pooling resources

Many independent alcohol beverage producers want to expand sales into foreign countries but are hamstrung by a lack of market weight and marketing power that are needed to break into new markets on their own. “Our cost-sharing programme helps to maximise their resources to reach adult consumers and importers overseas,” added McEntee.

While major multinational players like Brown Forman and Beam Suntory drive international promotional pushes of American spirits to a large degree, craft distillers are becoming more important. They have grown from fewer than 100 in 2005 to 2,300 today, and are helping to fuel spirits export growth from almost every state in the union.

craft distillers discus
Helped by craft distillers, American whiskies are exported from almost all US states.

The Discus promotions programme is supported by funding through the USDA’s Market Access Programme (MAP) as well as the Agriculture Trade Programme (ATP), the latter of which was set up specifically to assist agriculture groups that have been adversely impacted by retaliatory tariffs.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States used this funding to implement marketing campaigns in the key export markets of Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, as well as for participation in trade shows in London and Berlin that can boost the image of craft distillers.

In 2021, US spirits exports rebounded by 14% versus 2020 levels to reach $1.6 billion. This was, however, still below 2018 pre-tariff levels of approximately $1.8 billion. Approximately 37% of total US spirits are exported to the European Union and the EU’s imposition of tariffs on American whiskeys in June 2018 has had a major impact on total US exports.

The 2021 rise was helped by a tariff suspension on certain US spirits exports, as well as the reopening of the hospitality sector, and consumers choosing to buy more premium and super-premium American spirits.

Referencing the 2021 sales rise, McEntee said: “This is a great sign, but our exports remain well below levels achieved in 2018 – the first year that retaliatory tariffs were imposed. With the lifting of these tariffs by the EU and UK, we expect to see a renewed appreciation for US spirits from consumers overseas.”

Covid remained a challenge

Last year was particularly difficult for implementing MAP and ATP export animation activities due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the sporadic reopening and closings of various parts of the global hospitality sector.

craft distillers
The Cheers! campaign has focused more on American whiskies.

Campaigns under the banner ‘Cheers! Spirits from the USA” served as the centrepiece for export promotions to support craft distillers on a variety of platforms including Instagram. The campaigns were tailored for each targeted country with the aim of educating adult consumers, buyers and importers about all aspects of US distilled spirits.

The focus was on American whiskeys in particular and their versatility for cocktail making. The campaigns resulted in nearly 348 million impressions worldwide in 2021.

Discus first participated in the MAP programme in 2006 and it has conducted spirits promotions in cooperation with USDA in 21 foreign markets. Since then, total US spirits exports have increased by nearly 90%, from $831 million in 2006 to $1.6 billion in 2021.

The spirits council plans to return to London and Berlin to participate in trade shows in July and October this year, and to continue its Cheers! campaigns in all the markets mentioned above apart from Taiwan.

Join us at SIAL Paris as exhibitor Join us at SIAL Paris as visitor