Coming round to blends

05 September, 2008

It's long been on the cards, but still been a long time coming - but Famous Grouse has finally overtaken Bell's to become the UK's leading off-trade blended Scotch.

Pre-Christmas saw a £1 million ad campaign for Bell's but it wasn't enough to arrest the longer-term drift in Grouse's favour.

Bell's fall from second to fourth place in the overall spirits league in the UK off-trade reinforces the case for the imminent relaunch of the brand as Bell's Original and the dropping of the 8 Year Old descriptor, which never really cut any ice with UK consumers.

Of even more significance could be the promised £4 million ad spend for Bell's, a significant step

up in above-the-line support, including its first appearance on TV for three years.

Getting it right could hold the key to the Diageo brand's long-term ability to fight back against Edrington's Grouse.

The animated game-bird advertising has struck a chord with UK consumers and been at the core of the brand's communications for more than a decade now, proving the marketing maxim

that successful brands aren't built overnight.

Limited -edition packs and the introduction of the premium-priced Black Grouse to the UK market have only increased the pressure on the second-placed brand.

Good gains for Whyte & Mackay and High Commissioner have left Teacher's top five position looking vulnerable.

If High Commissioner can continue to repeat the formula that brand owner Glen Catrine established with Glen's in vodka, it could push much higher up the sales chart than its current fifth.

But arguably the most striking aspect about blends is the

2% increase in the category overall.

Producers can now talk about adding growth to the category rather than arresting decline.

Top 10 blended Scotch whisky brands

1 Famous Grouse +7%

2 Bell's -2%

3 William Grant's +37%

4 Teacher's -7%

5 High Commissioner +67%

6 Whyte & Mackay +25%

7 Glen Corrie -9%

8 Claymore


9 Stewart s Cream of the Barley +6%

10 Jacobite -9%

The battle for third

It's only six months since William Grant's was relaunched with a £3.8†million marketing campaign behind a new bottle, with the aim of pushing it into third position in the blended category by 2012

- and it

has already achieved its aim.

The pack was given a "prouder, more†masculine" design as part of a £35 million global push .

Former number three Teacher's lost 7 % of its sales over the year despite†coming back at Grant's with a £1.5 million spend focused on the concept of "manspace".

Both Beam and Grant's supplier First Drinks Brands have talked about making an "emotional" connection with their target consumers, but for the moment it seems that one is having a laugh while the other is drowning its sorrows.

Blended Scotch

whisky in figures

Value: £751 million

(2007: £739 million)

Change: +2%

Volume: 525,000hl (2007: 534,000hl)

Change: -2%

Source: Nielsen year to Aug 9 2008

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Talking terroir

When Bordeaux was in fashion, it seemed almost logical that we should fetishise winemakers. Here were people responsible for brilliant acts of blending, across large estates and multiple grape varieties, including superstars such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. These days, fashion has moved on and pinot noir is ascendant. As a result, the star of the winemaker has fallen and we find ourselves following a new star in the sky: terroir.

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