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Spirits Report 2007

Published June 2007
GROWTH PROSPECTS: Europe & Travel Retail
ASIAN POTENTIAL: Cognac & Scotch


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FOLLOWING the announcement of the Whyte & Mackay acquisition by United Brewers, one wonders what a stray fly, attracted by the heady smell of single malt, may be witnessing from the wall of the Scotch Whisky Association. Are the members pleased, seething, or plotting? After all, UB’s owner, Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, a member of the Indian parliament, has strongly opposed the SWA’s efforts to reduce India’s highly protectionist import taxes of up to 550%. Notably, he’s frustrated by the EU’s refusal to recognise Indian spirits made from sugar cane – whisk(e)y must be made from grain in Europe.
However, with his new Scottish portfolio, Mallya stands to benefit from the EU’s continued policing of products and from any future tariff and tax reform in India.
And while the WTO considers the tax dispute, Mallya can no doubt sit in on discussions by both the SWA and the Indian government – an interesting and enviable position to be in.
A statement, presumably pre-prepared, declares at least the SWA’s intentions post purchase. “We look forward to working closely with Whyte & Mackay’s new owners on matters of mutual interest to protect and promote Scotch Whisky in India and other international markets.”
The reason? The likes of India and Asia as a whole offer enormous potential. European markets, as analysed on pages 10-12, are showing growth in spirits, but are essentially near-saturated. The US, home to some 40% of premium spirits sales, is in a similarly healthy but saturated state, while Latin America is unpredictable – at the mercy of a highly changeable economic climate.

   Significant future growth is almost guaranteed to come from Asia, a place where penetration of international spirits is currently low – for example, imported spirits represent only 1% of the Chinese market (and the increasing number of affluent consumers there have a penchant for Western brands).
Leading Scotch producers are certainly confident of Asian growth – see pages 30-34 for more information on the extent of stockpiling and the reasons behind it.
However, Asian markets aren’t easy to access. Distribution requires time, or partnerships and acquisitions. Hence, not long after the UB announcement came the news that LVMH had acquired a 55% share of China’s Wen Jun Distillery – a premium white spirits company. Christophe Navarre, president of Moët Hennessy, explained the decision. “This investment signals an important strategic move for Moët Hennessy as it seeks to contribute to the development of the Chinese premium spirits market.” One, it should be added, LVMH has already penetrated with Cognac (see pages 26-29).
Of course, in India, Whyte & Mackay, under UB ownership, has a distribution network in place for whisky that no other Scotch can rival. Tariff reduction or not, it’s well placed to succeed.

Patrick Schmitt
report editor

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