Market Watch Magazine logo

New England Powerhouse

When it comes to spirits sales, New Hampshire outperforms other control states in many ways. “The New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC) works tirelessly to ensure our liquor and wine outlets are one of the best places to buy alcohol not only in New England but throughout the United States,” says NHLC chairman Joseph Mollica. “We’re constantly researching and improving our selection.”

 The Granite State easily outpaced the 0.2% average growth rate for spirits in the 17 control states in 2023 with 2.2% growth to 2.39 million 9-liter cases, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) and Impact Databank. “Due to decades of hard work and commitment, New Hampshire is often recognized as a model control state because of its progressive retailing, merchandising, and polices while also being one of the most profitable,” Mollica explains. “Last year, we took an integrated approach with our marketing to tie into in-store merchandising opportunities, such as displays, signage, and in-store tastings. We continue doing that this year and plan to focus on celebrity engagements and bottle signings, as well as sourcing allocated and ultra-premium spirits for New Hampshire-exclusive barrel buys.”

Among the top ten control states by spirits volume, New Hampshire posted the second highest growth rate in 2023, respectively after Pennsylvania’s 4.7% increase. Spirits’ growth in New Hampshire rebounded last year after dipping for two consecutive years in the wake of the historic spike in beverage retail during the Covid-19 pandemic. Consumers are also trading up in the state, as spirits’ dollar sales grew 5.7% to $465.49 million. “The NHLC is seeing tremendous growth within the spirits category year-over-year,” Mollica says. “Consumers are continuing to purchase premium products this year, and we expect that trend to extend throughout the rest of the year.”

While New Hampshire is the No. 13 control state by population size, it’s No. 9 by spirits volume. State liquor and wine outlets attract millions of shoppers from throughout New England and tourists from all over. “We’re optimistic about our ability to grow our already robust spirits sales,” Mollica says. “New Hampshire stands out among surrounding states, including open states like Massachusetts and control states Vermont and Maine. We are also widely recognized as a tourist state, inevitably competing against the home states of our visitors.”

Finishing Strong

Spirits’ sales skyrocketed in New Hampshire in December 2023. Year-over-year volume jumped 44% from December 2022 to nearly 299,000 cases, and dollar sales soared 51.4% to $64.74 million. These growth rates were more than double those in any other control state. Last September, the NHLC launched a multi-bottle purchase program across state liquor and wine outlets, offering savings to customers who buy multiple bottles at once. Outlets experienced a 10.5% sales increase in the first month. “Sales continued to increase throughout the rest of the year, with significant growth in November and December,” Mollica says. 

Sales increased 197% in November and were up 276%, or $5.2 million, in December. “We will continue to run new and exciting programs, like the bonus card program, where customers spend $100 and receive a $20 bonus card, and the buy two or four bottles and save extra programs, and brand sweepstakes,” Mollica says. 

Five of the top 15 spirits brands by volume in New Hampshire grew by double-digit rates last year. Three were whiskies—one Scotch, one Bourbon, and one Irish—and two were vodkas. No. 12 Johnnie Walker ($25 a 750-ml. for Red Label) posted the highest growth rate at 54.2% to 39,000 cases. No. 4 Jack Daniel’s ($25) increased 10.1% to 67,000 cases, and No. 11 Jameson ($34) grew 15.6% to 47,000 cases. No. 1 spirit Tito’s vodka ($19) advanced 10.6% to 202,000 cases and No. 9 Granite State vodka ($9 a 1.75- liter) advanced 17.1% to 50,000 cases. Larger size packages, including 1.75-liter and 1-liter bottles, grew in popularity last year in New Hampshire. “The biggest trend we saw regarding spirits consumption in 2023 was the growth of 1.75-liter product sales,” Mollica says. “It quickly became the NHLC’s fastest-growing product size, increasing more than $13.3 million, or by 7.6%.” 

Vodka volume increased 2.6% in New Hampshire last year and is the largest spirits category with a 32.1% share of the market. Since 2018, however, vodka’s share of the state’s spirits market has decreased 1 percentage point from 33.1%. Spirits gaining share since 2018 include American whiskeys, cordials, Tequilas, and prepared cocktails. Total spirits volume last year was 91,000 cases less than 2018’s 2.48 million cases. Vodkas and rums account for most of the 3.7% decline. 

In other New Hampshire spirits action, Tequila volume increased 6.2% to 168,000 cases last year and growth is expected to continue. “Our data indicates customers are purchasing fewer ultra-premium products, like Patrón Silver ($55 a 750-ml.), Casamigos Blanco ($54), Herradura Silver ($44), and Clase Azul Plata Blanco ($155), and instead are shifting toward purchasing premium and super-premium brands such as Espolòn Blanco ($34), Teremana Blanco ($30), 1800 Blanco ($30), and Hornitos ($30), causing sales to remain steady,” Mollica says. 

Whiskies Lead Growth

Bourbons and Irish whiskeys led spirits growth rates last year in The Granite State. Jim Beam, No. 7 spirits brand by volume and the state’s largest selling Bourbon, increased 4.4% to 56,000 cases. Due to some distillers offering fewer single-barrel buys earlier this year, consumers shifted to purchasing super- and ultra-premium brands such as Woodford Reserve ($38 a 750-ml.), Maker’s Mark ($32), Old Forester ($24), Booker’s 120 Proof ($100), and WhistlePig Small Batch 6-year-old ($48). “The spirits segment continues to grow in New Hampshire, as we are experiencing a rise in both the Bourbon and Irish whiskey categories,” Mollica says. “Last year, Bourbon products generated the highest revenue compared to other spirits in New Hampshire, with nearly $69.3 million in sales, increasing more than 11.3% or by $7 million, last year.” 

The NHLC launched “Bring Back Jack,” a recycling program last year in partnership with Brown-Forman and Jack Daniel’s, resulting in the collection of more than 34,000 pounds of glass at state outlets during the eight week program. “Due to the program’s success, we’re launching the program again this Spring, offering in-store discounts to customers and licensees who return empty glass spirits bottles,” Mollica says. 

Irish whiskey saw the highest percentage growth in New Hampshire last year, with sales advancing 16.1% to $18.26 million. Category leader Jameson ($34 a 750-ml.) commanded a 77% category share in New Hampshire last year with dollar sales growing 21% to $14 million. The Jameson 1.75-liter size ($56) represented 45% of the brand’s overall sales. Tullamore D.E.W. ($52 a 1.75-liter) and Redbreast 12-year-old ($77 a 750-ml.) are respectively the state’s No. 2 and No. 3 selling Irish whiskey brands and continue momentum. Bushmills ($23) and Proper No. Twelve ($27) round out the state’s top-five Irish whiskey brands, which account for 90% of category sales in New Hampshire. 

Newer category offerings performing well in The Granite State include Jameson Orange ($29 a 750-ml.), Proper No. Twelve Apple ($27), and Dublin Ink Warrior’s Gold Shery Cask Finish ($40). “We’re observing a younger demographic of both men and women gravitating to Irish whiskeys,” Mollica says. “We attribute the broad appeal to the approachability of Irish whiskey. It’s light, milder characteristics are welcoming to those who are newer to the category and those who are longtime fans.”

New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets introduced 20 new Irish whiskey offerings in addition to its existing 36 brands this March through a “Spirit of Ireland” initiative, an international partnership with Bord Bia, the Irish government agency for food and drink. State liquor and wine stores will be the first retailers nationwide to feature a collection of 20 ultra-premium Irish whiskeys, including offerings from Fercullen, The Irishman, Writers’ Tears, Drumshanbo, Waterford, Teeling, West Cork, Clonakilty, and The Whistler. “Our partnership with Bord Bia further sets us apart by expanding our vast selection of Irish whiskeys, reinforcing our retail outlets as a destination for more than 12 million customers across North America,” Mollica says.

While March is traditionally a popular time for Irish whiskey sales, aggressive year-end pricing in New Hampshire has driven high sales year-round and particularly during October, November, and December. “We are bullish on Irish whiskey, evidenced through our strategic partnership with Bord Bia and commitment to growing the category and expanding offerings to customers,” Mollica says. “We estimate as much as 10% to 15% growth in the category.”

Expanding Role

The NHLC opened its newest store in February, a 12,500-square-foot outlet in Nashua. The state-of-the-art outlet is one of three in Nashua, a border community to Massachusetts, and features 4,000 wines and spirits SKUs. The commission also recently announced the construction of a new 20,000-square-foot outlet on the border of Keene and Swanzey, strategically positioned to draw customers from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. 

The commission is also working on plans to redevelop two existing state-owned spirits and wine retail outlets on the north and southbound sides of Interstate 95 in Hampton, on the state’s seacoast. NHLC plans to redevelop these sites with two newly constructed, state-owned wine and liquor stores sized to at least 22,000 square feet, as well as retail, fuel, food, travel, and hospitality offerings. “We will continue reaching new audiences through partnerships, creative promotions, and our work with brokers and suppliers by offering unique products at competitive prices,” Mollica says. “We plan to maintain these relationships and forge new ones to broaden our wide selection of name-brand wines and spirits at low prices and no taxes.”

The NHLC’s responsibilities could increase if the state legalizes recreational marijuana. New Hampshire’s lawmakers are debating legalizing the recreational sale of cannabis for adults over 21. The New Hampshire House of Representatives is considering a bill (HB1633-FN-A) to create a system with the NHLC overseeing cannabis sales under franchise agreements. Under the bill in the House Finance Committee, the NHLC would monitor all products, marketing, and layouts of cannabis retail stores and issue licenses to all franchise owners and manufacturers of cannabis products. Stores throughout the state would be run by individual owners responsible for their employees and profitability. NHLC would issue retail licenses and collect fees, including 15% of gross monthly sales. 

Regardless of the outcome of legislation to legalize recreational cannabis in New Hampshire, the NHLC is ready, willing, and able to ensure spirits and wine sales in The Granite State remain highly profitable. “We are hyper-focused on maximizing revenue for New Hampshire,” Mollica says. “As we evolve, we respond to changing customer needs and interests. As a result, we continuously renovate and adjust outlet layouts to accommodate growing categories.”