High Noon is top-selling spirit in US

Hard seltzer High Noon was the leading spirits brand by volume in the US last year, according to new data.

According to Impact Database data cited by High Noon, the ready-to-drink (RTD) producer overtook Tito’s Handmade Vodka to become the biggest-selling spirits brand by volume in the US in 2022. Launched in 2019 by E&J Gallo, vodka-based High Noon nearly doubled its sales in 2022, data from The Brand Champions 2023 report showed.

Impact Database 2024 data showed that the brand retained the top position in 2023, with estimated case sales of 21.4 million last year – an increase of 30.5% on 2022 (16.4m cases).

In comparison, Tito’s reached approximately 12.1m cases in 2023, growing by 5% on 2022. Tito’s previously surpassed Smirnoff vodka for the leading position in 2019.

Britt West, senior vice-president and general manager of E&J Gallo’s spirits arm, Spirit of Gallo, attributed High Noon’s growth to its ability to “tap into so many usage occasions, where traditional spirits haven’t been able to go to in the past”.

West pointed to occasions such as going to the beach or a pool, or sitting on a boat, alongside traditional events such as barbecues and the on-premise.

While spirits are typically consumed with ice and mixer, High Noon is “packaged in a way that allows it to go much, much further,” he said. “And that’s why we see 78% of our volume coming from beer and seltzer switching.”

West has also noticed that consumers are seeking variety, with most of High Noon’s growth coming from its mixed 12-pack of cans.

High Noon Tequila Seltzer also became the number-one-selling Tequila-based ready-to-drink SKU, according to IRI data cited by the brand in the 13 weeks to 5 June 2023.

After Jose Cuervo, High Noon was the second-biggest Tequila RTD brand (total US multi-outlet, liquor stores and convenience stores) with an approximate 24% share, IRI data showed.

The Tequila-based High Noon offering was launched in spring 2023 and is described by West as a “real Tequila, real juice proposition”, created to attract “Tequila-first consumers”.

‘Misleading’ categorisation

Recent data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showed that the RTD sector’s expected growth rate has slowed due to the decline in hard seltzers. The IWSR said the sector’s growth would be led by premium-and-above RTD cocktails and long drinks.

On the decline of hard seltzers and how it could impact High Noon’s sales, West said: “We in the trade have a way of making these things seem like categories. I don’t think the consumer sees them that way. I think the consumer says: I’m looking for a low-ABV, refreshing, sessionable beverage alcohol drink. They’re not sitting there saying: this is a seltzer and not a seltzer.

“That’s why I think it’s important to understand that 78% of our volume is coming from light beer and seltzer. Those are enormous businesses that we can continue to grow against.

“I really think that the industry prism versus the consumer prism are two very different things in this category. And it’s misleading, I think, given the fact that most of the data sources don’t even like to put High Noon as a seltzer, even though it says ‘seltzer’ on the can. They like to put it in spirits-based cocktails.

“It tells you how the industry is looking at it differently to how the consumer is looking at it. If I’m thinking about a group of men or women on a nice summer day, during a round of golf – that was a light beer occasion previously, which we are sourcing from.

“When you look at big macro trends, like with the no/low movement, do I think that there’s any reason to believe that low-ABV, highly sessionable and refreshing alcohol beverages will slow down? No, I have no reason to believe that whatsoever. Seltzer is just a function of us putting parameters on the category.”

West also highlighted Canada and Mexico as markets of opportunity for High Noon.

But he is “cautiously” looking to markets outside of North America, adding: “When we look at the size of US domestic beer, we have still got so much runway that it hasn’t been first and foremost on our minds to build the category internationally.”

West expects a “big fall-out” in the RTD space after seeing a “rush into the category”.

He added: “I think it will come back in much the way you think about craft beer. It came back with smarter, better formulated, better thought-out concepts that meet real consumer needs.”

Looking to the rest of the Spirit of Gallo portfolio, West highlighted American whiskey and vodka as areas of “white space”.

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Author: Nicola Carruthers