There's a new liquor king, and it's not owned by any of the alcohol giants. Tito's Handmade Vodka, a pioneer of the so-called craft spirits movement, has surged past Smirnoff and Jack Daniel's to become the top-selling spirits brand in the U.S., according to publication Wine & Spirits Daily. The publication cites IRI data for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 9, which does not include sales at bars, for the claim.
Tito's grew sales 44% in that period to nearly $190 million. Brown-Forman-owned Jack Daniel's Black Label came in second at $178 million, with 2.2 percent growth, while Diageo's Smirnoff is No. 3 at $173 million after sales dropped 1.1 percent, according to the liquor trade publication.
Tito's rise is remarkable considering that it is not owned by one of the major liquor conglomerates. Indeed, it is the only independently owned brand among the top 40 brands, Wine & Spirits Daily notes. But even without the backing of a major corporation, Tito's has found a way to tap into emerging consumer tastes via folksy marketing and consistent positioning as an affordably priced vodka.
Named after founder Tito Beveridge, the Austin, Texas-based brand was first sold in 1997. It carved out a niche as a "handmade vodka" produced in "old-fashioned pot stills." Tito's "stuck with one product even though everyone was going crazy with flavors," says Emily Pennington, managing editor of Wine & Spirits Daily.
The brand has mixed up the vodka category so much that more established brands were forced to respond. Earlier this year, for instance, Smirnoff ran a campaign taking a shot at its "fake crafty" competitors with spots starring Chrissy Teigen.
Tito's didn't spend a dime on TV advertising last year, but still shelled out $13.9 million on measured media, including $9.2 million on magazine advertising, according to Kantar Media. Brown-Forman spent $26.4 million on the Jack Daniel's, including multiple varieties, while Diageo spent $6.5 million on the Smirnoff mega brand, according to Kantar.
The race for No. 2 is still tight. "Smirnoff and Jack Daniel's are neck and neck with Smirnoff able to take the No. 2 spot in the four weeks to Sept. 9," Wine & Spirits Daily reported.