Sales of Brown-Forman's brands, including Jack Daniel's and other premium whiskeys, rose 4 percent for the fiscal year, the Louisville-based liquor company said Wednesday.
Brown-Forman reported fourth-quarter and year-end earnings early Wednesday morning.
"Simply put, we had a terrific year, thanks to the balanced geographic delivery of growth from our leading portfolio of American whiskey brands," said Brown-Forman chief financial officer Jane Morreau. "Our underlying net sales grew over 6 percent in 2014. While this top-line growth was slightly below the 7 percent we had targeted for this full year, we estimate we outperformed our global competitive set by roughly 5 points, as their rates slowed considerably during the year."
For the fourth quarter, Brown-Forman reported earnings of $132 million, or 62 cents per diluted share, up 17 percent over the same quarter of 2013. For the year, the company reported earnings of $659 million, or $3.06 per diluted share, up 11 percent.
Brown-Forman reported $893 million in net sales for the quarter and $3.95 billion in net sales for the year.
Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga credited the company's gains to judicious investment in developed as well as emerging markets.
"Led by our multi-decade work on our amazing Jack Daniel's trademark, Brown-Forman has and continues to play the lead role in expanding premium American whiskey to more than 160 countries worldwide," Varga said. "I think Jack Daniel's and American whiskey uniquely possess attributes of both Scotch and vodka. ... This appeal will continue. ... Both Jack Daniel's and American whiskey's share of the global whiskey market, despite wonderful development over the last decade, remains at relatively low level."
For fiscal 2015, the company predicted 6 to 8 percent growth in sales, driven by the continued global expansion of the Jack Daniel's trademark, including its Tennessee whiskey and its Tennessee Honey flavored whiskey, with other brands such as Woodford Reserve bourbon, Herradura tequila, and Finlandia vodka helping to drive sales growth.
The company forecast diluted earnings per share of $3.25 to $3.45.
It attributed the 2014 increase in sales to the strength of its premium whiskey portfolio, which includes Versailles-based Woodford Reserve as well as Jack Daniel's, which grew 5 percent globally for the year. Outside the United States, sales of Jack Daniel's rose 7 percent.
Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey grew a phenomenal 32 percent over last year's doubling of sales and sold 1 million cases, making it the 20th-largest brand priced at more than $25 a bottle, the company said.
Sales of Brown-Forman's super- and ultra-premium whiskey brands — including Woodford Reserve and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel, Gentleman Jack, Sinatra Select, No. 27 Gold and Collingwood — grew 16 percent.
Woodford Reserve's brands delivered exceptional sales growth, up 25 percent; even sales of Old Forester, the company's founding brand, rose 7 percent, driven by significant demand for the brand in bars, the company said.
Altogether, the premium whiskeys also sold well over 1 million cases, Brown-Forman said.
This was the 18th consecutive year of double-digit growth for Woodford Reserve, Morreau said
"And we believe we are just cracking surface of the brand's global potential," she said. And with Old Forester, "it's refreshing to see consumers return to authenticity, as Old Forester was not just our founding brand, launched in 1870, but the first bottled bourbon."
Whiskey wasn't the only winner: Finlandia vodka's underlying net sales rose by 4 percent, and sales of Casa Herradura tequilas also rose 4 percent.
Brown-Forman's sales grew slightly in the United States, but much of the gains came overseas. Emerging markets rose 8 percent, and those outside the 10 markets rose 10 percent.
Brazil, Turkey, Russia and China showed rapid growth for the company, but there were some dim spots: Australia, which reported weak sales, "was constrained by a challenging economic backdrop and weak consumer confidence," the company said.
Mexico, which has a very competitive tequila market, saw sales drop 4 percent.
But the company said the high-end market of travel sales delivered an 18 percent sales increase "driven by price increases, successful innovation, and new product launches, including the successful roll-out of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey and Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select, the launch of Jack Daniel's No. 27 Gold, and the global expansion of Woodford Reserve."
Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl.