Are Fireball Shots Flaming Out?

(Sazerac Company)

The party might be simmering down for Fireball, the popular cinnamon-flavored shot, as new supplier trends are starting to see a slowdown.

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“The rate of growth for Fireball has been steadily slowing from well over 100% a year ago to a still impressive 18% today,” says Trevor Stirling, Senior Analyst on European Beverages at Bernstein Global Wealth Management.

Fireball, the Canadian-flavored whiskey, which was first introduced in the United States in 2001, has been on fire the last four years, creating a “Fireball Nation” across the country.

“The brand has enjoyed extraordinary success, growing from 50,000 cases in 2009 to more than 2 million cases in 2013, overtaking even Jameson.  They also appear to have a strong unisex appeal as a shot, stealing share from flavored vodka and from Jägermeister,” says Stirling.

Last year, the liquor which mainly taken as a shot, made an impressive $863.5 million dollars, beating out shot rival, Jägermeister, who made $525.3 million, according to IWSR, a wine & spirits data source.

“The year over year comparison is slightly misleading because for the last several months, Fireball has been flat on a sequential basis, after dropping from its absolute high in December 2014, with some of the volumes no doubt being picked up by Brown Forman's (BF.B) Tennessee Fire, and to a lesser extent Jim Beam Fire,” adds Stirling.

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(Source: NABCA.ORG)

The brand which was first created by Seagram as part of the company’s range of flavored schnapps was later sold to The Sazerac Company, a privately-held alcoholic beverage company in a New Orleans.

“Fireball has been around for decades, previously known as 'Dr. McGillicuddy's Atomic fireball' but Sazerac rebranded the drink with flashier packaging,” says Scott Raynor, Founder and CEO of Diströya Spirits, a cinnamon-flavored liquor created to compete with Fireball’s popularity.

Its slogan is "Tastes like heaven, burns like hell" with a fire-breathing dragon front and center on their bottle.

“We weren’t 'one of the first' companies to have success in the flavored-whiskey category, we WERE the first company. But Fireball goes beyond a category, it is one of a kind,” says Becky Henry, Marketing Director at Fireball in a rare interview with via email.

“We didn’t 'market' Fireball. It all came down to relationship building whether that was through social media or face-to-face. The secret sauce wasn’t some sexy marketing campaign, it was just a team of brand ambassadors going around the country, looking both bartenders and consumers in the eye. The question I get the most is, “how can we achieve Fireball’s success with blank?” It’s like asking a marketing agency to create a viral video. Well yeah, we all hope the video is going to go viral but you can’t force it. It takes a lot of variables to align just right at the right time, ”says Richard A. Pomes, who was Fireball’s first official Brand Ambassador in 2009 but has since left to start his own marketing agency.


(Source: Sazerac Company Courtesy)

A shot of Fireball is 66 proof, which is on the low end for alcohol content as far as “whiskey” shots go but it’s a lot cheaper too. The average price for a bottle of Fireball in the U.S. is between $20-$30 dollars. It’s also a staple for young consumers because the after you drink the shot, the taste leaves your breath with a cinnamon fresh flavor just like Wrigley’s Big Red Gum.

"Fireball is often the first stop on the collegiate tour whiskey trail -- it's a stepping stone to the real thing,” says Heather Greene, Author of Whiskey Distilled, A Populist Guide To The Water Of Life.

Stirling says the dangerous flip-side of success for a brand like Fireball among younger consumers is that they move on as they get older, and the brand becomes perceived as something only kids drink.

“Arguably, this what happened to Smirnoff Ice in much of the world,” adds Stirling.

The good thing is that flavored whiskies have opened a lot of doors for new consumers in what was once a male-dominated category.

“We've seen accelerating growth in whiskey for thirteen years in a row now.  Spirit sales in general were up 4.4% to 22.2 billion last year, with whiskey accounting for a whopping 80% of that growth,” says Greene.

David Ozgo, Chief Economist at Distilled Spirits Council, says while the flavored whiskies are growing it still only makes up around 11% of the total whiskey market.

Fireball wouldn’t divulge their plans for the future but they did say that it’s increasingly being called for in mixed drinks and it’s not just a shot.

“We have no doubt that momentum for flavored whiskies will continue for another 12 or 24 months.  But we suspect that we are nearing the high-water mark.  If we are right, the big question about the coming shakeout is which brands may have compromised the brand equity of the mother brand,” says Stirling.

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