These days, it’s hard to tell which came first: the consumer trend toward buying superpremium whiskies or the growth of single malt Scotch, which has more than doubled its sales in the U.S. since 1991. The usual explanation is that in the face of a growing economy, high-end spirits pick up sales with the increase in consumer discretionary dollars. The early 1990s, though, saw a slight downturn in the economy, a mini-recession really. However, single malt Scotch sales began to climb just about that time, as an increasing number of consumers started to become aware of the prestige and character of single malts. Indeed, the appeal of single malt Scotch may have helped initiate new-found consumer interest in upscale whiskies in the ’90s. And with today’s healthy economy, there’s all the more reason to expect the single malt Scotch segment to maintain growth — and it hasn’t disappointed.
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Leading Brands of Single Malt Scotch in the Control States
12 months through June 1998
While overall Scotch consumption continues to decline, national consumption of single malt Scotch jumped another 14.6% in 1997, according to the Adams Liquor Handbook 1998. Single malt Scotch consumption was also up in the control states, registering a 13.6% increase, just 1% less than the national figures show. Among the segment’s leaders are The Glenlivet, from Seagram Americas, boasting national ’97 sales of 175,000 9-liter cases followed by Glenfiddich from William Grant & Sons, with sales of 102,000 cases. The Macallan, from Rémy Amerique, is third with sales of 52,000 cases, for a 33.3% increase, followed by Brown-Forman’s Glenmorangie, which grew 22.7% to 27,000 cases.
This holiday season Brown-Forman’s Glenmorangie is highlighting its line of different bottlings in a line of colorful p-o-s materials.
Interestingly, not one of the top 20 single malt Scotch brands nationally showed a sales decline in ’97 (though a few did in the control states), which is pretty impressive, especially when considering that more and more brands than ever before have entered the segment with an eye on acquiring a slice of the high-end Scotch business.
True, the growth of labels means suppliers will increasingly have to jockey for position in a crowded market and face the threat of getting lost on shoulder-to-shoulder retail shelves. But the addition of so many new names seems to be heightening the public’s interest in sampling new tastes.
And the increasingly competitive nature of the segment also will serve to underline the importance of advertising, promotions and merchandising. This is a category that literally thrives on diversity; the more consumers have to learn about, the more they want to learn. Regional characteristics; production arcana; historical tidbits; taste profiles. It’s a game the industry has been playing for several years now, and the serious players know the rules.
Hiram Walker’s “Defenders of the Malt” line of single malts offers a tasting kit featuring several educational elements.
As for the inevitable shakeout ahead, when consumers grow weary of experimentation and finally settle, more or less, on their core brands? The consensus is that, that day is far away, too far to concern the industry now.
In these heady days of the category’s youth, suppliers and retailers need concern themselves essentially with taking advantage of a booming market.
“The category is still very small, so we see this as going on for the next five, six years,” said Guido Goldkuhle, brand manager, Scotch whiskies, for Hiram Walker, which markets Laphroaig, Glendronach, and Scapa. “Even when the initial excitement of this category wears off, consumers are still going to be trying different things and experimenting. This isn’t going to be an issue in the short term at all. It’s the brands that really capture the essence of their region and that are the superior brands that will stand out, just like in any category that grows.”
With all the new products and line diversifications hitting the market, it can be “overwhelming standing in front of the single malt section in lots of different stores,” said Larry Kass, group marketing manager for Heaven Hill Distilleries. “The packaging is beautiful; there is so much visually and sensually that hits you when you stand in front of a good single malt Scotch section. We face that struggle every day with our Isle of Jura, our entry in the single malt category. But we’re starting a real push on it now.” Isle of Jura’s 10 year old is priced from $24.99 to $26.99, its 15 year old from $59.99 to $64.99. The older vintage is “practically in national distribution but still a little bit hard to find,” Kass added.
Heaven Hill Distilleries is making a merchandising push to support its 10- and 15-year-old Isle of Jura single malts.
“There are about 100 distilleries in Scotland,” noted Goldkuhle, “so you have essentially 100 single malts. What you’re getting is different malts from these different distilleries coming in, so there are more being introduced every day.” Hiram Walker introduced Glendronach 1968 last April. Available in limited supply and aged in 100% sherry casks, it is priced at $150. Earlier this year, the company also rolled out a 30-year-old Laphroaig for the same retail price.
“Ultimately, it’s good for the category because it’s one that has been built on experimentation,” said Mark Teasdale, senior vice president of marketing for William Grant & Sons Inc., which markets Glenfiddich and The Balvenie. “A lot of entries shows there are a lot of places to go.”
In addition to the new brands, “We’re going to see even more additional ages of the existing brands,” said Jack Kavanagh, brand manager for Chicago-based Barton Brands, whose single malt entrants are Speyburn and Old Pulteney. “That seems to be what has been happening and will continue to happen.”
Rémy Amerique is offering a very limited number of The Macallan 1946. an ultra-premium line extension.
Arturo Nunez, brand manager for the Classic Malts of Scotland Collection (Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Cragganmore, Talisker, Oban and Dalwhinnie) for Schieffelin & Somerset, said he is looking for an eventual “drop-off in the number of brands, and certain brands taking leadership positions in the market.” Schieffelin & Somerset also markets 10-year-old Loch Dhu, Cardhu, Knockando and Royal Lochnagar. And the company forecasts total single malt Scotch sales to reach about 800,000 nationally cases by the year 2001.
Given the popularity of single malts and the inherent desire on the part of consumers to try more, it has been less than surprising to find the number of introductions and brand extensions rising quickly.
“There’s been a lot of new interest by younger consumers, a segment that, quite frankly, blended Scotch has had a difficult time attracting,” said Goldkuhle. The company is rolling out some special vintages of Glenrothes, which is available in limited supply. “Every couple of years they come across a batch of whiskey that is particularly superior to the rest. They take that batch, bottle it, and ship it out rather than using it for blends.” The company is offering 1979 and 1982 vintages, with more to come.
Schieffelin & Somerset executives are currently considering rolling out a distiller’s edition of the Classic Malts of Scotland, with the six brands double-matured in various caskings. The company is also looking at a possible extension of Oban. “It is one of the brands that does very well against this new consumer that’s going right into malts, straight ahead without having tried blends or premium Scotches,” said Nunez. “So we may try to enhance its flavor profile by having some different extensions, maybe sherry or port.” Neither move would take place until some time in 1999.
William Grant’s Glenfiddich boasts this handsome gift set for the holidays.
In June, Jim Beam Brands, marketers of The Dalmore (12 and 21 years old) and 30-year-old Stillman’s Dram, introduced The Dalmore Cigar Malt, the first single malt designed to complement the cigar-smoking experience. “In many cases the smokers you see at places like Club Macanudo are drinking a whiskey, like a Knob Creek [bourbon] or The Dalmore,” said Kathleen DiBenedetto, director of superpremium brands. “Now we have one that’s blended specifically for them.” The product is aged in oloroso sherry casks for about 70% of the liquid. “There’s a big difference from the traditional Dalmore.”
Beam executives “just want to get a little bit of a niche business going. By no means is it at the same level as our Dalmore 12 year old, which is our leading size. But it’s certainly bigger than our smaller brands, 21-year-old and Stillman’s.” The Cigar Malt retails for about $30. The Dalmore 12 year old, which will offer a set of two Scotch tasting glasses for the holidays, is priced at about $24, the 21 year old at about $85, and Stillman’s at approximately $170.
This fall has seen a pair of product introductions from Rémy Amerique. One is Gran Reserva, an 18-year-old aged in Spanish sherry-oak casks. Limited to only a few hundred cases, it retails for about $140 a bottle. The other introduction is The Macallan 1946, the oldest single malt ever released by the distillery for purchase. It is priced at about $2,500 per bottle, and there are only “a few” in the country, according to Hilary Peck, Rémy’s marketing director for The Macallan and Bunnahabhain.
Seagram Americas is featuring a gift sampling set of 200 ml bottles of five different vintages of The Glenlivet.
Why the introductions? “In the case of The Macallan, we introduce new products when they’re available, when the distillery manager identifies a certain number of casks that were of a particular quality,” said Peck. “It’s not a marketing-driven exercise, it’s a product-driven exercise. But because the market is so buoyant, we’ve had tremendous interest in these two products.”
William Grant’s Teasdale noted, “There may be a new Glenfiddich down the line. Right now, with The Balvenie we’re really focusing our efforts behind the Double Wood, the 12 year old, and the 21-year-old Port Wood. These are the ones consumers have really latched onto.”
Brown-Forman Select Brands Co., which distributes Glenmorangie, recently introduced a pair of new brands: Glen Moray, which launched in February and is available in 12- and 16-year vintages, and Ardbeg, which was introduced in June. Ardbeg vintages include a 17-year-old, a 1978 and Provenance, “which means that it contains some of the oldest Ardbeg whisky,” said Chris Morris, manager of consumer development. The label age is 1974, although it includes whiskies that are much older.
Jim Beam Brands recently introduced a special bottling, The Dalmore Cigar Malt, meant to complement the cigar-smoking experience.
In explaining the introductions, Morris pointed out that Ardbeg is an Islay malt, “and if there is a sub-segment within single malts that is the most visible or more recognized right now, it is Islay. People are turning toward these real complex malts.” Glen Moray, a Speyside malt, is viewed as a good introduction to single malts. The 17-year-old Ardbeg is priced at approximately $70, the 1978 vintage at $100 and the 600 bottles of Provenance at $500.
In October, Glenmorangie, which is already aged in port wood, madeira wood and cherry wood, introduced a claret wood finish, reputedly the industry’s only such product. The claret barrels, in which the liquid sits for two years, are supplied by Mouton Rothschild and will be used with the 10-year-old product. Only 1,100 bottles are available in the U.S., and they retail for about $250. Glenmorangie is offering gift packs with glassware and a water pitcher for the holidays. The brand is also the lead sponsor of Trout Unlimited Complete Angler series on ESPN2.
Barton’s newest addition is 12-year-old Old Pulteney, which hit store shelves in April and currently enjoys some “reasonably good distribution right now,” according to Kavanagh. “Our shipping has about three times stronger than we had anticipated.”
The company is in the process of “refining” its positioning on 10-year-old Speyburn, he noted, “We are focusing on the brand as a high-quality, price-value alternative. You look at some of the brands it competes with, and it has an advantage in that it is 10 years old. Some of the price value brands, probably most of them, tend to be unaged,” or less than 10 years old, he said. Barton already offers a $3 rebate on 750s of Speyburn.
The marketing thrust behind Old Pulteney will remain on-premise, including some cigar seminars. Indeed, the company recently introduced its own Old Pulteney cigar, which is made in the Dominican Republic.
Bob Dubin, Scotch category manager for Seagram Americas, said he feels that “over the long term people will begin to settle on some specific brands.” He pointed to what he called “more esoteric brands that people try once” and noted that “their quality is incredibly good. But if you’re going to try a brand once and not go back, you’re not building franchises.”
To help build its The Glenlivet franchise, Seagram Americas debuted a new advertising campaign October 1. The ads, which began showing up in magazines in mid-September, use the tagline, “One Place, One Whiskey,” emphasizing where the spirit comes from “and what makes it so unique.” The campaign also features comments from people who actually live near the Glenlivet distillery. The message? “What makes Glenlivet so unique is that we have soft water from Josie’s Well. That’s our exclusive source of water at the distillery.”
New from Seagram are a 1969 The Glenlivet vintage, which debuted in October and retails for approximately $200. The 1969 and several other The Glenlivet vintages — 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1972 — are included together in a wooden-boxed sampling set. The sampler, with five 200 ml bottles, retails for about $300.
The sampler box, said Dubin, is a “good way for people to really see what the maturation, the aging process, does over a period of time, because you can really taste the difference.” Seagram’s Heritage Selection of four single malts, which sold 4,000 cases last year, remains “primarily a hand-sell, bottle by bottle,” Dubin said. The collection includes Strathisla, Longmorn, Benriach and Glen Keith.
EDUCATION & INFORMATION
Suppliers basically look to retailers to help consumers have fun with the category, and to treat it as very much the hand-sell that it is and should remain.
Along with consumers, retailers themselves need to be well educated when it comes to single malts, and be able to “talk intelligently about what is going on, what the brands represent,” said Hiram Walker’s Goldkuhle. “With blends you have a shelf with your big four and at most seven or eight brands, and there’s not a lot of differentiation between them. With single malts, you’re looking at a shelf set of 40 to 50. A consumer walks in and a lot of those brands they haven’t heard of or seen, so a retailer really has to know what these brands represent.” The company also supplies retailers with a video designed to give them that information.
Seagram’s Dubin feels retailers should do more personal selling of single malts. “Retailers have the opportunity to feature products and to a great extent influence consumers when they come into the store. You have a highly profitable category in Scotch whiskey. It’s not only profitable, it’s a category with high prices, so there’s a benefit for everybody.”
Selection is also vital. According to Schieffelin & Somerset’s Nunez, there are “a lot of retailers out there who do not have significant offerings from all of the regions of Scotland. A lot of consumers, the older, established aficionados, are going in looking for those multiple ranges, looking to try all that is offered from Speyside or The Highlands. There is an opportunity for them to expand their offerings.”
All involved agree that single malts are a spirit consumers love to learn about — a fact that has not been lost on suppliers.
“The most effective tool we have is education, through tastings, through building awareness not only of the brands but what a single malt means,” said Goldkuhle. “There’s a lot of individuality between the brands; they have specific places they’re produced, specific regions, and the single malts reflect the character of that region. Consumers in this category are hungry for information, and we want to get as much available to them as possible.”
Consumer education, as far as Hiram Walker is concerned, is “more of a slow brand-building process” accomplished through events, tastings, information, a website (www.defmalt.com) and direct mail. A video is also available.
William Grant & Son’s Teasdale also noted the “need to educate people about this category, and anything retailers can do to help that is fantastic. To promote and further education consumers about single malt Scotch whiskey helps all the brands in the category.”
Indeed, single malts remain a category filled with meaning, which explains its fascination in the eyes of consumers. By explaining and thus enhancing that meaning, the industry can expect the momentum to grow stronger — right along with sales volume.
Howard Riell is a veteran business reporter who is a contributing editor to Beverage & Food Dynamics and Cheers magazines.