As sales dip, Allen’s faces competition for the coffee brandy crown

Posted March 16, 2013, at 11:49 a.m.
Last modified March 17, 2013, at 5:44 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — For the third straight year, sales of the top-selling hard alcohol in Maine have declined.

The makers of Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy need not worry about the liquor losing its perennial status as the most popular in the state anytime soon, however. It still outsold its nearest competitor by more than a 3-to-1 margin in terms of bottles sold and, with overall revenues of more than $11 million, its sales were more than $8 million higher than the second-highest earning brand.

Still, there is at least one other distiller of coffee flavored brandy that is making a push to capture some of Allen’s market share in Maine. In the past two years, with heavy promotion from its manufacturer, the 1750-milliliter bottle of Mr. Boston Coffee Flavored Brandy has become one of the state’s top 20 best selling units of liquor.

Overall, liquor sales in Maine increased from 2011 to 2012, according to officials with the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. The number of cases — which can contain between six and 120 bottles, depending on the size — sold in the state rose by nearly 29,000 to 940,000. The sales value of all the liquor sold in Maine, they added, rose $5.5 million to $135 million.

However, sales in Maine from Allen’s top four selling bottle sizes declined from just under $12 million worth in 2011 to $11.37 million in 2012, a decrease of roughly $620,000. Among those top selling bottle sizes, there were approximately 47,000 fewer bottles of Allen’s sold in Maine last year than in 2011, with the brand’s sales volume decreasing from roughly 988,000 bottles to nearly 941,000.

Sales of Allen’s signature flavor peaked in Maine in 2009, when it sold over a million bottles in the state for $12.95 million, but in 2010 decreased to $12.3 million.

But despite the decline in sales for its Maine moneymaker, Somerville, Mass.-based M.S. Walker sold a lot more liquor in the state in 2012 than it did the prior year, thanks to its August 2011 acquisition of 15 brands of spirits from White Rock Distilleries in Lewiston. According to the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, or BABLO, M.S. Walker sold $6.85 million of former White Rock brands in Maine in 2012.

Attempts Friday to contact officials with M.S. Walker were unsuccessful.

The state compiles annual statistics on the sale of liquors in Maine. BABLO tracks liquor sales by value and volume and separately tracks different bottle sizes of the same brand, each of which it categorizes as an individual unit. Last year the bureau compiled sales statistics on 2,882 different units of alcohol.

Four different sizes of Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy routinely appear among the top 10 best selling units of liquor in Maine. For 2012, different sizes of Allen’s were ranked first, third, fourth and tenth on the list. No other brand appears more than twice among the Top 25.

The largest Allen’s bottle, 1750 milliliters (also known as a half-gallon), held the top spot in Maine last year with 54,408 cases containing 326,448 bottles sold. More than 198,000 bottles of Allen’s one liter unit were sold, as were nearly 180,000 bottles of the 750 ml size. The flask-sized 375 ml size accounted for more than 235,000 bottle sales of Allen’s sold in Maine last year.

Among Maine’s Top 25 selling liquor units in 2012, Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum grossed the second highest amount in Maine last year with $3.3 million in sales (133,000 total bottles) while Orloff Vodka, the second most popular liquor in terms of volume, sold 277,000 bottles (for $2.73 million).

Sales of Captain Morgan’s top sellers also have declined each of the past three years and fell by 30 percent, from nearly $4.9 million to $3.4 million, between 2010 to 2011. Sales of Orloff and Bacardi Light — which consistently ranks fourth in Maine for sales value and volume — have wavered from one year to the next.

Orloff Vodka is one of the former White Rock brands that M.S. Walker acquired nearly two years ago. Gold Crown Coffee Flavored Brandy, which routinely appeared among the top selling 30 brands in Maine in the 2000s, is another.

Overall, including the Orloff units that do not appear in the Top 25, M.S. Walker grossed more than $4 million from Orloff sales in Maine last year, according to state statistics. The Massachusetts firm also sold $2.8 million worth of other former White Rock liquor brands in 2012, including $683,000 worth of Gold Crown Coffee Flavored Brandy, for a total of $6.85 million worth of liquor brands new to its line of spirits. Last year, the best selling unit of Gold Crown Coffee Flavored Brandy ranked 57th in Maine in terms of volume.

Combined with the more than $11 million in Allen’s coffee brandy sales, at a minimum M.S. Walker sold more than $18 million worth of liquor in Maine in 2012.

Tim Poulin, deputy director of the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, said recently that the popularity of coffee flavored brandy in Maine is why Mr. Boston recently has been aggressively promoting its version of the liquor in the state.

Mr. Boston, perhaps better known for its bartender’s guides, has been owned since 2009 by Metarie, La.-based Sazerac, which also owns the Dr. McGillicuddy’s line of flavored schnapps. Mr. Boston originally was founded in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston in 1933.

“[Mr. Boston is] trying to get a share of the market,” Poulin said last week.

Part of Sazerac’s strategy has been to sell its brand for less, according to Poulin, or to attach smaller bottles of the liquor to larger ones that on their own sell for the same price as identically sized bottles of Allen’s. The attached smaller bottle of Mr. Boston comes at no added cost, Poulin said, giving the buyer more brandy for their buck.

This past week, at an Ellsworth-area supermarket, bottles of Mr. Boston were displayed with “Save $3” coupons draped around their necks. Nearby bottles of Gold Crown and Allen’s coffee flavored brandies were not adorned with any such coupons.

Lori Logan, brand director for Mr. Boston, indicated Friday in an email that for the past four years the Louisiana company has been “making a concerted effort” to build the Mr. Boston brand in Maine, which she described as “the leading market in the United States for coffee brandy.” For the past two years, Mr. Boston is the only other variety of coffee flavored brandy that has appeared in the state’s Top 25.

“Quite a lot!” Logan replied when asked how much Mr. Boston sales have increased in Maine.

She said fewer than 200 cases of Mr. Boston were sold in Maine in 2007. Last year, according to the state, nearly 10,000 cases of the brandy, or almost 80,000 bottles of varying sizes, were sold in the state.

Logan declined to comment on Mr. Boston’s specific marketing strategies in Maine but did say that aside from focusing on taste and maintaining a competitive price, “a number of other promotional efforts [are] under way.”

If Mr. Boston wants to give Allen’s a run for its money, however, it has a long way to go. Though its 1750 ml bottle has ranked 19th in volume of cases sold in Maine in each of the past two years, the brand’s 2012 gross sales total for five different bottles types was $646,756, only about 5 percent of Allen’s $11.7 million overall sales total.