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Top 10 Scotch whisky brands

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.

10. Bell’s

Owner: Diageo
2013 volume: 2.5 million nine-litre cases
2014 volume: 2.5m
Change: 0%

One of the world’s biggest spirits companies and certainly the world’s biggest Scotch producer, Diageo is still struggling despite other companies reporting a more “bouyant” spirits market. This Scotch at least has apparently managed to hold its volume of late.

9. Label 5

Owner: La Martiniquaise
2013 volume: 2.51 million nine-litre cases
2014 volume: 2.58m
Change: +2.7%

A major player in the French market which is, somewhat surprisingly, one of the biggest market’s for Scotch in the world, 2014 was a good year for La Martiniquaise‘s flagship Scotch brand.

Sylvia Bernard, international marketing director, said: “Our sales in France have recovered after the tax increases in France two years ago, which had a big [negative] effect.

“We fully control the supply… and we have invested strongly in Scotch over the last 10 years so we have the supply to grow [further].”

8. Dewar’s

Owner: Bacardi
2013 volume: 3m cases
2014 volume: 2.7m
Change: -9.9%

Not a group usually associated with Scotch whisky, Bacardi nonetheless has a number of whisky and whiskey assets, also owning Compass Box and William Lawson’s Scotch and Angel’s Share Bourbon’s brands.


7. William Peel

Owner: Belvedere
2013 volume: 2.65m cases
2014 volume: 2.75m
Change: +3.7%

Part of another French-owned company portfolio, this is another brand rarely seen in the UK but which turns over large volumes on the continent.

The brand maintained good growth last year which now means Belevdere owns a 22% share of the Scotch market in France.

6. William Lawson’s

Owner: Bacardi
2013 volume: 2.8m cases
2014 volume: 3.1m
Change: +10.7%

If the company’s Dewar’s brand struggled last year then its other leading brand had no such difficulties – perhaps the racy advertising campaign helped?

No other Scotch brand on this list managed anywhere near William Lawson’s level of growth – although it in terms of volume it still remains some way behind the market leaders.

5. J&B

Owner: Diageo
2013 volume: 4m cases
2014 volume: 3.7m
Change: -7.49%

A fairly swingeing fall in sales for Diageo’s J&B in 2014 but the brand launched its new “spirit drink”, J&B Urban Honey which is designed to appeal to “a new generation of men and women”.


4. Grant’s

Owner: William Grant & Sons
2013 volume: 4.71m cases
2014 volume: 4.37m
Change: -7.2%

Another steep drop for a big name brand, Grant’s recently signed a £1.2m advertising deal with Sky Sports as part of its drive to appeal to younger consumers. 

3. Chivas Regal

Owner: Pernod Ricard
2013 volume: 4.68m cases
2014 volume: 4.59m
Change: -1.9%

The first appearance of a Pernod Ricard brand, despite “challenges” in China which have hit its Cognac brands particularly hard, it has reported a strengthening spirits sector while new CEO, Alexandre Ricard, has declared he has a “thirst to be first”.

2. Ballantine’s

Owner: Pernod Ricard
2013 volume: 6.01m cases
2014 volume: 6.13m
Change: +1.9%

Another Pernod brand that, among other things last year, “led the cry” (apparently) for a Scotch whisky emoji.

“Wine lovers, cocktail fans and even martini enthusiasts have been able to spruce up their texts about their favourite tipples with a selection of emojis, but what about the legions of whisky drinkers who seem to have been forgotten, with no whisky emoji available to decorate their digits with their favourite Scotch?” the brand said. “This inequality has gone on for too long.”

No doubt the aim was, in a recurring theme, to appeal to younger consumers.

1. Johnnie Walker

Owner: Diageo
2013 volume: 20.1m cases
2014 volume: 17.9m
Change: -10.9%

Johnnie Walker is indisputably king of the Scotch whisky world but after a much trumpeted breakthrough of the 20m cases barrier in 2013, the woes surrounding Scotch and Diageo caught up with it leading to an almost 11% drop – although it remains bigger by far than the next biggest brand.

The brand remains active however, signing up Jude Law for an advertising campaign, opening new “embassies” in Asia, releasing a “year of the ram” limited edition bottle, creating a “futuristic” glass to complement its Johnnie Walker and ginger ale “serve” and collaborating with the DFS Group to open a “Johnnie Walker House” in Singapore Changi last month.

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