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

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
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
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
Life and Style
life
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

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits