Whisky galore as exports soar: Foreign sales of the spirit are now on a par with the steel industry

How did that happen, asks Oscar Quine

David Cameron’s recent jaunt to China to rustle up new business was met with an icy dismissal of the UK’s global standing from the Chinese Global Times.

“Britain is no longer any kind of ‘big country’,” an editorial read. “But merely a country of old Europe suitable for tourism and overseas study, with a few decent football teams.”

Whisky should also have been on that list, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics. It’s a pertinent omission, given that Chinese liquor cabinets stocked with glinting bottles of Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal and Ballantine’s played a not inconsiderable part in Scotch making it on to the ONS’s top 10 products manufactured in the UK last year – putting it, remarkably, just one place behind structural iron and steel products.

With a reputation for fustiness on these shores, Scotch may seem an unlikely fit alongside motor vehicles, aeronautical parts and steel and iron. But exports to many emerging markets have been rampant for close to a decade, driven by its desirability as a status symbol among rapidly growing middle classes.

From Latin America to India, Sub-Saharan Africa, China and the Middle East, sales grow at such an unabated rate that suppliers closely regulate price to ensure they do not run dry. It’s a success story built on exclusivity and a sense of a certain kind of Britishness, which is bringing a much-needed boost to the UK economy.

While there was a 1 per cent overall increase in the values of exports, the value of manufacturers’ sales of whisky increased by 8 per cent to £3.11bn, marking the eighth consecutive year of growth. In 2012, Diageo, the producer of Johnnie Walker, the world’s biggest-selling Scotch, announced a £1bn investment programme into its Scottish operations – including a new Johnnie Walker distillery in Speyside – to take advantage of an internationally-led “renaissance” in the centuries-old industry. Last year, the company produced 50m cases of whisky and white spirits in Scotland – 85 per cent of which was sold abroad.

“What Scotch has got is a global reach,” says Peter Smith, Diageo’s public affairs director for whisky. “Right from the early days in the 19th century, you’d have ships’ captains leaving Scotland with a crate or two of whisky, while the diaspora of Scots has also taken Scotch whisky to all four corners of the world.

“It has this cachet that no other spirit has: there are some spirits that sell far more, there are some that may be a bit more funky, but it’s Scotch whisky that has that global reach that’s been so important to its continued success.”

It’s a story that producers are working hard to capitalise on. Johnnie Walker lounges have opened in Shanghai and Beijing, to “educate” consumers about the product. For an entry-level price of RMB800,000 (£80,000), customers can work with the company’s Master Blender Jim Beveridge to create a personalised blend. Meanwhile the brand’s Asia-Pacific marketing sells its association with aspiration to a wider audience with the slogan “Keep Walking”.

“It’s about heritage and branding,” says Jeremy Cunnington, senior analyst on the alcoholic drinks team at Euromonitor. “Whisky as a whole is seen as a premium product. What you’re finding is that as consumers have more disposable income and become more aspirational, they’re looking for those types of products and whisky fills that space. If you look at different regions, consumers are moving to it from their traditional spirits.

“White spirits are often considered as bog standard and what everyone drinks. But brown spirits and it’s not just whisky, but also cognac, have that positive premium image.”

Scotch was accompanied on the ONS’s list by beer in seventh place, contributing £3.55bn to the economy. Fluctuating around mid-table for the past five years, the value of manufacturer sales dropped by 12 per cent last year, as the volume of beer produced fell by a fifth. Soft drinks came in at six.

The production of small motor vehicles was the biggest contributor to the UK economy, bringing in £13.16bn, while larger vehicles contributed just over £6bn. Aerospace technologies, a sector in which the UK is a leading international player, featured heavily, with the value of repair and maintenance of civil aircraft notably rising from £2.9bn in 2011 to £3.3bn in 2012.

For a product that owes so much to its past, producers have to think a long way ahead. “Scotch whisky is perhaps one of the longest supply chains of any industry,” says Smith. “What you’re laying down in stock, you can’t use for at least three years by law and working with five-year cycles, we’re looking five, 10, 15 years ahead.”

Complex taxation, high import tariffs and counterfeits damaging the product’s reputation are all potential obstacles for the continued growth of the industry, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. However, no members of the organisation were available for comment as it was their Christmas party. It is unknown whether they passed it enjoying a dram.

Made in the UK: Top 10

1. Motor vehicles; £13.16bn

2. Medicines and drugs; £7.46bn

3. Civil aircraft parts; £6.46bn

4. Diesel vehicles; £6.02bn

5. Military aircraft (manufacture and repair); £5.74bn

6. Soft drinks; £3.66bn

7. Beer; £3.55bn

8. Repair and maintenance of civil aircraft; £3.32bn

9. Iron and steel structures; £3.13bn

10. Whisky; £3.11bn

Source: ONS

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
ebookAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices