Whisky: Christmas in a glass

We’re on the path to Christmas now so it’s a good time for retailers to revisit their whisky ranges. There has been a lot of noise about Irish whiskey and also some global options, including bourbon from the US. But will the popularity of these overshadow Scotch this festive season?

Research suggests this won’t be the case. A report by Edrington-Beam Suntory, which sources data from CGA and Nielsen, predicts single malt Scotch will be one of the growth sectors in whisky throughout this year and into the next decade. It predicts value sales will grow, making single malt a £408 million category by the end of this year, increasing to £439 million by 2022.

The Whisky Yearbook, however, states that while single malt Scotch and US whiskey will see value growing ahead of volume, indicating further premiumisation, blended Scotch whisky will experience a fall in both value and volume over the same period.

The report says: “This is being driven in part by more accessible whisky on offer attracting new drinkers to single malt and encouraging blended whisky drinkers to trade up.”

Looking at whisky trends from last year, the report adds: “The biggest disruptor in the off- trade at a category level has been the growth of single grain whisky, led by brand leader, Haig Club.”

Haig Club owner Diageo confirms interest in the brand has continued.

Diageo GB whisky brand ambassador Colin Dunn says: “Scotch has well and truly captured the hearts of consumers and they are becoming more and more interested in exploring the whisky category in depth.

“The versatility of Scotch means it can be enjoyed in so many ways and in all seasons – whether savoured neat, on the rocks, or as the base of a cocktail. This makes Scotch a wonderful gift to give and receive at Christmas, and there is certainly no denying the shelf appeal Haig Club has – the bold bottle and deep blue shade stands out significantly behind any counter.”

Dunn says the aim of the brand has been in encouraging people to consider whisky in new ways, including experimenting with flavour combinations.

He adds: “Haig Club has a mellow and versatile spectrum of flavours, and can be used as the base of a cocktail, opening up the whisky category to a younger audience who may not usually consider adding the spirit to a mixer.”

The brand launched its Make Your Own Rules campaign last year to challenge traditional myths surrounding Scotch. Suggestions for retailers on how to help communicate this to consumers include the idea of placing recipe cards alongside the spirit on shelf. As an example, Dunn suggests “simple serves such as Haig Club Orange & Tonic”.

Also in the Diageo portfolio is Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which the producer highlights as a must-stock for Christmas.

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Brand ambassador Ali Reynolds says: “The perfect choice for gifting occasions, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is one of the most luxurious and iconic blends within the portfolio. In my view, nothing quite beats Johnnie Walker Blue Label served neat. Its signature profile presents a touch of spice, not forgetting its subtle smokiness finishes with hints of hazelnuts and honey.” There are two sizes (20cl and 70cl) encased in blue gift packs for the festive season, including a bottling note giving people the option to add a personal touch with a hand-written note.

With plenty of gift packs and premium options to choose from, retailers should consider dedicating extra space to Scotch whisky in the run-up to Christmas.

Tim Dunlop, regional account manager for Mangrove UK, says: “We recommend making space for a good whisky selection, including not just entry-level lines but also more expensive stock. People will spend a bit more money at this time of year.

“Although the quantity of stock you sell might be limited when it comes to rarer expressions, the potential profit margin on these lines is above average, which is great for the bottom line.

“Focus on showcasing the core and spending some time with your staff to make sure they know the brand stories and are confident upsetting customers to the more aged and profitable expressions.”

He says that over the past 12 months the company has seen good sales of Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh since being appointed distributor of these brands in August 2018. The core range from each of these distilleries has been selling well, with Glendronach 12 Year Old and the two 10-year- old (heated and unheated) Benriach whiskies proving to be “hugely popular”.

Dunlop also notes that sherried whiskies sell well during the festive season while another trend to keep note of is a customer desire to understand provenance and the brand’s story.

Scotch is not a sector that shies away from innovation and there have been a number of launches and expressions this year for retailers to consider stocking.

Just last month the Glasgow Distillery launched its 1770 Glasgow Peated Release No1.

The newcomer is described as “a rich and smoky addition” to the 1770 Single Malt family. The smoky variant will be joined by a Triple Distilled release in early 2020 and, together with the Original 1770, the trio will form the 1770 Signature range.

Other recent launches are designed to help new single malt drinkers navigate the category.

William Grant’s Aerstone focuses on the impact of maturation and malting on flavour. It is available in two expressions: Sea Cask 10 Year Old and Land Cask 10 Year Old.

The range showcases two different styles of whisky under the same brand and clear descriptions on each pack are aimed at helping consumers to understand their flavours.

Sea Cask, for example, is described as “smooth and easy”, and is a classic Speyside- style single malt, while Land Cask is a “rich and smoky” peated malt.

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