Keeping it modern

20 August, 2010

Innovation and a focus on the contemporary might not be the first things that spring to mind when considering Scotch whisky. But, increasingly producers are concentrating on attracting a more diverse audience in a bid to boost its appeal.

Phil Huckle, Chivas Regal brand ambassador at Pernod Ricard UK, has no doubt the current level of growth in Scotch whisky can be maintained. “The long-term future is looking healthy as there has been an increase of interest in premium, aged whisky and we are seeing a lot more women sampling the product,” he says.

“The Scotch whisky drinker could be anywhere between 18 and 80 years old, so we are constantly working to ensure the image our products convey is appealing to a diverse audience – it’s important to continually innovate and stay contemporary.”?To ensure it’s able to meet demand for premium whiskies, Chivas Brothers has recently spent £10 million expanding the size of the Glenlivet distillery which, it claims, will provide a 75% increase in production capacity.

David Urquhart, joint managing director of Gordon & MacPhail, owners of Benromach distillery, agrees consumers respond well to innovation and new brand variants. “Even though Benromach is a relatively small player, our consumers expect something new to always be around the corner. In the post-credit-crunch economic climate, small-scale, high-quality, premium, niche whiskies are where the growth is.

“We introduced the 20cl Benromach 10 year old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky in a tin at £11.99 as an ideal gift and impulse purchase for consumers.”?He also believes growth can be sustained but warns: “Distillers cannot rest on their laurels. Innovation equals investment as well as ideas and knowledge – a challenge in this economic climate.”

Maxxium UK’s marketing manager Bob Dalrymple says brand investment in malts is key. “We are investing in Ardmore, which has a unique taste profile, being the only fully peated Highland malt on the market. Its unique taste makes it a helpful stepping-stone between the mainstream, softer Glens and more challenging malts such as the ones from Islay, which are often a step too far for many consumers.”?Iain Weir, marketing director for Ian Macleod Distillers, says existing customers are still predominantly aged 30-plus but the industry is aiming to recruit from 25 upwards.

“Scotch needs to continue to recruit younger consumers and increase sales via existing customers. Our Smokehead Islay single malt is working hard to target younger drinkers through strategic partnerships and creative advertising.”?The brand is

the whisky of choice for Classic Rock magazine and has also sponsored London’s High Voltage Festival.

Consumer behaviour?Aside from rising costs, competition and pressure on stocks, education for both customers and retail staff seems to be another priority for many producers.

Director of sales at Glenfarclas, George Grant, says the brand is embarking on individual tastings with Oddbins managers to ensure they are up to speed with the its products and ethics.

Huckle adds: “There is still a long way to go to educate many consumers about the category. It is not easy to get them to part with £20, £30 or £40-plus on a premium product, especially if they don’t fully understand what they’re buying.” Harriet Bennion, brand manager at First Drinks, agrees education is important. She says: “We have been investing in research looking at consumer behaviour to help make the category more accessible to consumers. Education needs to focus around taste and flavour, as these are key drivers of the purchase decision.

“Stores should be encouraged to stock smaller size variants such as 35cl bottles to offer consumers premium variants at an affordable price point. Both Grant’s and Glenfiddich have had success in the off-trade with their 35cl format sales.”?Dalrymple believes the key to growth for blended Scotch whisky lies in brands putting more emphasis on long-term brand-building, rather than price.

“At Maxxium UK, we are committed to promoting the blended Scotch whisky category through our Teacher’s School of Whisky campaign, created to educate and inform consumers about the craftsmanship that goes in to creating a blend.

“Education is key to ensuring the blended Scotch category continues to thrive.”?Mark Suddaby, Tesco spirits category manager, also warns against a narrow focus: “We have to move away from the commoditisation. The customer comes first, but the long-term health of the category is also critical.

“Whisky has the potential to overtake vodka if managed correctly, because there is much more value for the customer within the complexity of whisky as a more complicated and interesting drink.”

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Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

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