Can Jägermeister stomach Fireball’s heat?

Mar 20, 2015

Jägermeister is about half a century older than Fireball, the popular spicy cinnamon-flavored Canadian whisky that's heating up bar counters. And the German spirit is showing its age.

Fireball surpassed Jägermeister in popularity for the first time ever in 2014, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI. IRI, which tracks sales at many retail locations, but not at bars or restaurants, reported Fireball's sales totaled $131 million versus $81 million for Jägermeister. Fireball's sales more than doubled in 2014, while Jägermeister's sales declined 3.8%. The two brands are highly competitive at bars where both are popular options when drinkers are looking to enjoy a flavorful shot.

Jägermeister has conceded it's facing challenges in the U.S.

Despite growing in "virtually every international market," problems in the U.S. led to a 5.6% drop in total sales to 87.1 million bottles. Jägermeister blamed the drop on new competition and "aggressive" pricing by competitors. Fireball, for example, is about $6 cheaper per bottle than Jägermeister.

Fireball is also notably winning the social-media war. It has over 81,000 followers on Twitter, more than double Jägermeister's total.

But Jägermeister earlier this month began to defend its turf — not by launching a spicy cinnamon-flavored concoction to mirror what Fireball is doing, but by debuting its first big marketing campaign in the U.S. since 2012. The campaign is called "56 Parts. Best as One" and is an effort to showcase the spirit's ingredients, including ginger root, orange peel, and cinnamon from Sri Lanka.

The campaign is the latest to market craftsmanship of the spirit, echoing a broader trend in the alcohol beverage industry to focus ad strategies on the development of the beverage. Millennials want to know what goes into their food and beverages, executives say, and companies are increasingly willing to tell their stories in an effort to become more transparent.

"The great thing for us is we have a lot of stories of craftsmanship to tell," said Marcus Thieme, regional director for North America Jägermeister.

Thieme admits that a marketing campaign can't be the sole inspiration that will lead a consumer to purchase Jägermeister. But he hopes that by telling more stories about the brand throughout the campaign, the company will will convince consumers to get curious about Jägermeister again.

Jägermeister also downplays the rivalry with Fireball, which has become so popular that Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's have recently unveiled their own competing concoctions. And while Jägermeister debuted a line extension in 2013 that was a vanilla and cinnamon blend, the company says it won't launch new flavors simply to follow the next hot trend.

"Every day there is a new brand coming to the market, we don't see it as a threat," Thieme said. "We aren’t concentrating on what other brands are doing. It is better to drink Jägermeister than anything else.”

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