Scotch Blends: Look out for the wave

Indeed, Edrington is “letting all markets have a go” along with traditional front-runners – Greece where long-term agent Karoulias still handles the brand following its own management buy-out from BB&R Spirits, and Spain, where the brand is now with Maxxium and not Varma. “It’s tough there but the negative trend for the whole market is beginning to slow.” And in the US it’s with Remy rather than Skyy Spirits – these old-time key stamping grounds will be as well as another 30-40 new markets around the world. “We are really ramping up the effort, and lighting small fires all over the place,” says Craig.  

Positive message

All in all there is a much more positive PR message coming out of the Cutty camp – it’s started to pick up awards on the tasting circuit and, come this autumn, major PR activity will focus on the Big Yellow Wave. “It’s Cutty’s 90th anniversary – so we’ve been rocking the boat since 1923,” says Craig.

In terms of brand positioning Cutty is slightly above mainstream and sees the Pernod Ricard-owned Chivas Brothers’ Ballantine’s as its nearest competitor. Of course, Ballantine’s has been up against it in Europe, particularly Spain, which is one of its main stamping grounds.

“Europe is the biggest challenge. This time next year France could be Ballantine’s number one market,” says international brand director Peter Moore. “They’re pretty neck and neck at the moment – but the rate of market drop in Spain was worse than expected.” 

Indeed Scotch as a whole is down some 10% in Spain and, while Ballantine’s “did better than that, and managed to gain a bit of share”, the going is clearly tougher than expected. 

Overall though, the Ballantine’s world is in good shape and, in spite of obvious pockets of difficulty, Chivas is “pretty optimistic”. 

“On the whole there is “quite positive news coming from the Americas, Asia and Africa”, says Moore. Additionally, the rate of development in eastern Europe has been “quite marked”. In particular the brand is doing well in Poland and Russia, Romania and Hungary.

In Latin America Ballantine’s has made good ground, albeit from a lower base, in Mexico, but the stars are Brazil and Chile – both markets evidently appreciate this “easy tasting whisky”.  

In the Far East the principle Ballantine’s fortress is South Korea, where it has built on its strengths with its key sponsorship of the golf championship, which is proving hugely successful. It has spawned the Ballantine’s Championship blend, which is now created by the winner of the tournament and, in addition, created a bespoke 41-year-old, as well as the Ballantine’s Championship Golf Pack, which comprises 17-year-old and 21-year-old, this has gone down particularly well in travel. 

“Our golfing footprint has broadened and we are seeing the benefits of long term thinking, particularly in Asia” says Moore. “The 17-year-old, and above is very strong in duty free throughout the region.”

That said, Korea as a market is still in the doldrums and it has not recovered since the economic difficulties of 2008/09. Indeed, over the ensuing years, with less disposable income, consumers are not going out to drink. In short, business entertaining has taken a hit and this has affected all whiskies “quite badly”.

However Ballantine’s is not that perturbed and is taking the long-term view as it is in China, although recent political changes have created a short-term instability. “Also the main business is with the 12-year-old so as yet it’s not as prestigious – but overall duty free as done well and our business is up there year on year,” says Moore.