Mexicans overtake UK spirits drinkers

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The Independent Online
SEVEN of the world's top 10 distilled spirits markets declined last year, and only one showed real growth. The UK suffered one of the biggest contractions, and slipped one place to seventh in the world rankings behind Mexico.

Total shipments of spirits among the top 10 in 1992 fell by 1.4 per cent to 4.82 billion 75cl bottles. There was a 9 per cent decline to 277 million bottles in the UK, while Mexico increased by 2.3 per cent to 293 million bottles.

The United States, the world's biggest market, increased by 1.5 per cent to 1.8 billion bottles, mainly because of a rash of imports on last summer's fears of a trade war with Europe. Germany, the second largest and swollen in size by reunification, expanded by 3.2 per cent to 655 million bottles.

The preliminary findings are contained in the latest issue of Impact International, a leading collator of data for the industry. 'Of all the world's slumping spirits markets, Japan has probably been the most significant,' the magazine says.

Cuts in executives' expense accounts have weighed heavily on deluxe spirits brands, particularly cognac sales. Overall, the Japanese spirits market, excluding locally produced drinks, slumped by 6.7 per cent to 385.2 million bottles, having previously fallen by 6.4 per cent in 1991.

Recent trading figures from Scotch whisky producers have underlined the decline in worldwide sales. Scotch production, particularly of single malts, is being cut and stocks are being rolled forward to preserve prices.

The underlying sales picture for the world's leading spirits companies also shrank last year. Growth was limited to just three of the top 10, and was largely fuelled by acquisitions.

Exceptions to the downturn, according to Impact, were American Brands, flat at 316.8 million bottles, Pedro Domecq, up 6.4 per cent to 247.2 million, and Brown-Forman Corp, up 2.2 per cent to 158.4 million.

Two of the UK's biggest companies continued to dominate world rankings, despite a fall in volume sales. Impact says IDV, part of Grand Metropolitan, suffered a 2.2 per cent fall to 686.4 million bottles, largely due to a 4.1 per cent decline in demand for Smirnoff vodka to 14.2 million nine-litre cases.

Similarly, United Distillers, number two in the world and owned by Guinness, saw volumes drop by 4.3 per cent to 48.3 million cases, equal to 579.6 million bottles. The company's leaning towards Scotch was exposed by recession in three key markets, Japan, the US and the UK.

Sales of branded spirits have suffered the brunt of recession, as customers have traded down to cheaper local and own-label products. The change in consumer preferences in the UK has been most marked among standard blended Scotch, the largest segment of the market with average prices of pounds 11.50 a bottle.