Scotch whisky will not look back at 2014 with much affection following a year of some highs but many more woes.
The year began positively with the news that the Scotch whisky industry contributes £5 billion per annum to the UK economy – more than the country’s iron and steel, shipbuilding and computing industries.
Investment in Scotch continues apace as well, The Edrington Group investing £100m on a new distillery for The Macallan in Speyside.
Yet the decline in volumes largely brought about because of the drop in certain export markets such as China but also the UK that began in 2013 continued to make itself felt in 2014.
The Scotch Whisky Association reported in March of this year that the UK market declined by nearly 5% last year, down 4m bottles from 87.5m to 83.3m. more worryingly, this is part of a wider and longer-term decline in Scotch volumes in the UK that began in 2009 when the market was 92m bottles strong.
The SWA levelled the blame on the “onerous” level of taxation that is applied to Scotch, which currently counts a 78% share of the price of an average bottle.
The news was grim elsewhere too. In April the SWA reported that the value of Scotch whisky exports dropped up to 39% in half of its 20 top markets, which contributed to an overall decline of 7% in the export value of Scotch in 2014.
The SWA blamed “weaker economic conditions and political volatility in some markets” for the poor performance, and called for the EU and (at the time) the next government – “no matter the political complexion” – to press the case for more open markets and trade agreements.
The biggest plummet in value exports was in Singapore, which witnessed a 39% drop to just £201m – down from £329m the previous year. The overall volume decline here was worse still, falling 41%.
Exports to the USA, the biggest market for Scotch, fell 9% by value to £748m. Volumes here also dropped by 7% to 118.6m bottles, with the SWA citing rising consumption figures to suggest a large build-up of stocks in the country was to blame.
France, Scotch’s biggest volume market, was more encouraging, as export volumes grew 3% to 183m bottles worth £445m, up 2% in value.
However, both emerging markets and some established markets suffered declines in value and volume, with SWA chief executive David Frost saying, “Economic and political factors in some important markets held back Scotch Whisky exports in 2014 after a decade of strong growth.”
There were brands and companies that bucked the trend last year but, in general, the performance of most brands on this list is marked with a minus sign not a plus.
The volumes represent global sales and brands owned by The Edrington Group, particularly The Famous Grouse, are not listed as the drinks business was unable to confirm accurate figures. It is thought that Famous Grouse’s annual sales amount to 3 million nine-litre cases, which would rank it as seventh on our list.