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

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
film
Sport
football
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker