[Exclusive interview]: Creating Scotch for booming Far East markets

Demand for premium and above single malt Scotch whisky in China is growing strongly, according to THE IWSR/Vinexpo study of spirits global trends. Rory Taylor, sales and marketing manager at Glasgow Whisky Ltd, describes how the company approaches its markets in the Asia-Pacific region and caters for differing tastes.

Q: What is the total value of Glasgow Whisky’s turnover in bottled and bulk whisky/what is the breakdown in bottled and bulk?
A: We originally started as a Cased Goods company however, over the years we have evolved and become more specialised in Bulk Whisky. Nonetheless, we still have a very strong Bottled in Scotland component to our business with both sides allowing us to reach all four corners of the globe.

Q: What percentage of sales is achieved in Europe/USA/China?
A: Europe was the market where we started our business and it continues to be an integral market for us. Germany has always been a solid market and Russia was great; however, we have seen this market struggle in recent years. I am sure it will come back before we know it. Over the last couple of years we have seen China and South East Asia boom and it is now the main focus for us and most Scotch Whisky companies. The USA is still an unexplored market for us, however it is a huge market for Single Malt Scotch Whisky and I am hopefully we will find something soon.

Q: By how much – as a percentage – has trade with China and the Far East increased in the last three years
A: The Far Eastern market has increased considerably for us over the last few years and is around 50% of our business. The demand for Single Malt shows no sign of slowing down and will in all likelihood continue to rise. There is also big potential for Bulk Whisky to blend and bottle with locally-made spirit and this is something we are keen to explore

Q: To what do you attribute the increase in sales
A: I think the increase in sales are down to a couple of different reasons. First, the knowledge and desires of consumers has grown. When we are at exhibitions or tasting events consumers are constantly pushing our knowledge and seeking more information from us regarding the different casks used, age and style of the whisky. This in turn pushes us to widen our offerings to customers. Finally, the world is constantly evolving so we are exposed to new markets where customers are looking for quality products and Scotch Whisky is able to meet these desires.

Q: Is there a difference in demand for whisky styles/expressions in China from Europe/What are the characteristics Chinese consumers seek
A: The Chinese palate is more suited to a sweeter whisky and ideally with a dark colour. We naturally then look at Sherry finishing which gives these wonderful characteristics of toffee with deep golden colours. The European market is far more varied as it has matured over the years with unique tastes developed in different markets. For example, Scandinavian markets prefer a smoky whisky with elements of peat, Russia likes a sweeter whisky whereas Germans like a hard, “spirity” whisky. Therefore as a whisky company, you need to be diverse and not just focus on one style.

Q: Which of your brands are most popular in China?
A: We currently have two Malt Scotch Whisky ranges in China, Cailleach and Speymhor. Both are new to the market but we are very pleased with the feedback that they are both receiving.

Q: Do you create whisky expressions, or collaborate with distributors in China, specifically for Chinese tastes?
A: We work closely with our distributors as they have the market knowledge; we can then tailor our offerings to suit their recommendations.

Q: To what extent is consumer education important in selling whisky in China, or are Chinese consumers familiar with Scotch whisky?
A: There is still confusion surrounding Scotch Whisky with regards to age statements and style i.e. Blended Scotch Whisky, Single Malt and Blended Malt. Therefore, it is imperative for us to educate the consumer so they know exactly what they are drinking.

Q: What promotional activity do you undertake?
A: The majority of our activity is based on getting to the specific market and holding tasting events. We put on our Kilts and can then talk for Scotland about Scotch Whisky! We feel very lucky to do this as a job and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Q: By how much do you expect trade with China and the Far East to increase in the next three years?
A: We expect trade to increase considerably over the next few years as markets become more and more knowledgeable. It is a very exciting time for Scotch within the Far East and we look forward to being part of the journey.

Company profile: Founded in 2007 by Graham Taylor and Stuart Hendry, Glasgow Whisky Ltd ships to customers worldwide bottled and bulk single malt and blended Scotch whiskies aged from three years to 30 years. Rory Taylor is the first of the new generation to work in the company.