The spirits industry is filled to the brim with brawling competition. Fickle consumers keep major players on their toes, and changing economic environments have them bobbing and weaving. Yet liquor giant Diageo (NYSE: DEO ) stands unwavering.
I see three reasons for the U.K. spirits maker's continued success.
1. Fully stocked portfolio of top-shelf brands
The world's largest liquor company by revenue, Diageo boasts an extremely diverse source of revenue and profits. Spirits account for more than 70% of net sales, yet no individual spirits category makes up more than 29% of company sales. Scotch, beer, vodka, and ready-to-drink categories bring in 29%, 12%, 12%, and 7% of sales, respectively.
Aside from offering a diverse portfolio of brands, the liquor maker boasts a first-class lineup. Seven of the top 20 premium spirits brands are housed in Diageo's watering hole, including Smirnoff, the No. 1 brand by volume, and Johnnie Walker, the No. 1 brand by value.
2. Global diversification
The spirits maker also boasts impressive geographic diversity. Diageo derives roughly 60% of sales from developed markets and 40% of sales from emerging markets including Africa, Russia and Eastern Europe, and Turkey. Net sales in emerging markets grew an impressive 33% between 2010 and 2012. Like most mature consumer products companies, Diageo has slated developing markets as a key driver for growth. Half of the company's net sales are expected to come from emerging markets by 2015.
3. Crafty positioning
As more drinkers shift upmarket, Diageo's attempting to woo consumers with its premium brands. This is especially true in the growing brown spirits categories. The surging popularity of whiskey, bourbon, and rye coupled with a tightened supply and lengthy barrel-aging process has large players making big moves to increase capacity. Earlier this month, Diageo gained a controlling stake in Indian distiller United Spirits, giving it greater access to the world's largest whiskey market. Amazingly, Diageo sells six bottles of its Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whiskey -- which is found in almost 200 countries -- worldwide every second.
But the battle for the brown-liquor-sipping consumer won't come without a fight from major rivals Beam (NYSE: BEAM ) and Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-B ) . Earlier this year, Beam announced plans to reduce the alcohol content of its Maker's Mark bourbon in an effort to stretch supply and accommodate demand. The company eventually reversed its decision, but not before Maker's Mark enjoyed a 44% spike in first-quarter sales. And last year, Brown-Forman announced plans for a new whiskey-barrel-making facility in order to meet growing demand for its Jack Daniel's. The company produced more than 11 million cases of the brand in 2012.
Foolish final thoughts
Shareholder returns have gone down smoothly for Diageo -- the stock racked up nearly 108% during the past five years. Diageo trades at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 17, a discount compared to competitors Beam and Brown-Forman. Yet the company boasts a premium portfolio of top-notch brands. Diageo represents a good opportunity to buy a global company with broad diversification, solid emerging market presence, and ample opportunities in hotly growing categories.
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