Big Hitter Bitters

The large-brand, big volume bitters are enjoying the fallout of the cocktail boom. Hamish Smith reports on their fortunes.


BITTERS, IN ITS BIG, 70cl form, is big business. Here we come across some genuinely large-volume players of the drinks world. As a market, it is chugging along – nothing spectacular, but growth is growth. As consumers in developed markets increasingly fall behind products that are less focused on sweet flavours, bitters are cashing in.

According to Euromonitor International (all figures) the five years from 2010-2014 saw growth of 15%, from 35m 9-litre cases to 39m cases. From 2013 to 2014, there was a respectable rise of 4%. The top markets in 2014 were Germany, where 9.3m cases of bitters were consumed, Argentina (6.9m), Italy (3.5m), Nigeria (2.2m), US (2m), France (2m), Poland (1.9m), Czech Republic (1.7m), Brazil (1.5m) and the UK (0.8m).

This is a category made up of players mainly from Europe, but the spread of bitters consumption takes us through five continents, with perhaps only Asia the notable omission.

But that’s 2014 data so let’s take a sneak peak at the big players’ most recent performances, with data gathered for June’s release of The Millionaires’ Club 2016, our annual list of the world’s largest spirits and liqueurs. The big four brands of bitters are Jägermeister, Fernet Branca, Campari and Aperol and here’s what they’ve been up to of late.

Mast-Jägermeister’s Jägermeister is a true German giant, selling 6.9m nine-litre cases in 2015, an increase of 1.4%. It managed to offset a decline of 5.6% in the US market (it’s hit competition from the spiced spirit drink market) with significant growth in the likes of Spain where the brand exceeded 3m bottles (approximately 230,000 cases) for the first time. Spain has consequently become the brand’s fourth largest market behind the US, Germany – which remained stable despite a price increase – and the UK. The bitters company told Drinks International Czech Republic, France and Hungry saw sales rise significantly too.

Mast-Jägermeister will be thankful it managed to arrest the decline of 2014 – which saw a 6% drop – in what has been otherwise an uninterrupted growth story over the past decade and more. The brand continues to push its frozen shot serve to 18 to 28-year-olds, but anecdotally we can say the Jägerbomb (which has never been pushed by Mast-Jägermeister) continues to detonate, even if it is more downmarket than it used to be and is often found in imitated form.

Fratelli Branca Distillerie’s Fernet Branca isn’t far behind its German bitters competitor, with sales at an impressive 5.27m cases in 2015, 2.3% up on the previous year. The brand continues to be a runaway success in Argentina (so much so it’s made there) and is most often found in the form of the Fernandito – Fernet and cola. Latin America is generally strong and elsewhere growth regions include the US, northern Europe, the UK, Germany and Australia. Which seems to tally with the markets in which bartending culture is at its most pronounced.