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SWA slams Mintel report

The Scotch whisky industry has hit back at claims its fashion for “heather and weather” brand imagery is set to have a negative effect on sales.

Industry analyst Mintel said that depictions of rugged coastlines and a reputation as a drink made for connoisseurs will lead to a decline in sales of up to £300 million as younger drinkers are put off the product.

Mintel’s Dark Spirits report predicted that the Scotch industry’s loss would be to the benefit of rival spirits such as dark rum and bourbon.

Indeed, while Scotch exports have risen by as much as 60% over the past decade, domestic sales in the UK have slowed.

Jonny Forsyth, senior drinks analyst at Mintel, said: “Given its theoretical advantages – including local heritage, authenticity and quality – the question must be asked why malt whisky isn’t performing better.

“The industry is fragmented and does little to build its brands. In the off-trade, only Bell’s has more than a 10% share of the market.

“Even those brands that have invested in their profile, such as Glenfiddich and Talisker, have been guilty of focusing on ‘heather and weather’ imagery rather than the more personable identity projected by the likes of bourbon import, Jack Daniel’s.

“Such a focus is far from emotionally engaging and feels somewhat tired.”

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), on the other hand, believes it is precisely this tradition and heritage which has led Scotch to become one of the UK’s top export products, worth £4bn to the economy.

Campbell Evans, director of government affairs for the SWA, said: “The UK is the fourth-largest market behind the United States, France and Spain, and efforts are being focused on the huge potential from emerging markets such as China.

“With that market in mind, the Scottish imagery mentioned in the report is entirely appropriate because that is what consumers overseas are attracted by.”

The SWA has also previously highlighted how the growth in international interest in the Scotch industry has led to an increase in tourism in the country.

Mintel’s Forsyth went on to call into question young people’s understanding of Scotch drinking rituals and its ability to be mixed with soft drinks or in cocktails.

He said that malt whisky in particular was confusing for them as they are under the impression it must be drunk neat, whereas competitors in the bourbon sector such as Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s are regularly consumed with cola, lemonade or ginger ale.

“Younger drinkers, and women of all ages, prefer drinks with a more approachable taste profile, including sweeter options,” he said. “The key to the success of bourbon is that consumers feel that they have more ‘permission’ to drink them with mixers. The same is true of dark rum.”

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