Not everyone is drinking gin & tonic this summer. Whisky is become very popular again and is even appealing to younger audiences now. Diageo Benelux country manager, Dirk van Ham, said it pays off to invest and innovate.
33 million crates
To be clear: there is no reason whatsoever to no longer sell gin, because it is still the only liquor with continued growth, despite the excise increase on 1 November 2015. "Gin is, for the first time ever, bigger than whisky, volume-wise and we will not see the end of the gin & tonic story anytime soon", Dirk van Ham said. "But there is more than gin. We are picking up signals that the whiskey market is also starting to stir."
That would be very interesting to Diageo, because it is the global leader when it comes to whisky, with brands like Johnnie Walker, J&B, Lagavulin or Talisker. “We sell 33 million crates every year. Currently, Diageo has 10 million barrels of whisky maturing in Scotland, about half of Scotland's total whisky supply... we are ready for a huge future."
Improved whisky image
It is an international trend: whisky is now the fastest-growing category, just like it was in Belgium prior to the excise increase. Despite everything, it is still growing in value, but are there reasons for the worldwide whisky revival?
“Whisky's image was somewhat outdated, but we polished the category and made it more accessible. We now see that an increased number of young adults now drink whiskey, with 18 to 24-year olds now occupying 28 % of consumption. Women are also more easily attracted to whisky now, with famous role models like Kate Moss playing their part."
Diageo has also altered the way it talks about the product. "Age and artisanship were always the buzz words when it came to malt whisky, but we shifted the attention to taste and that has caught on." Product innovation also played its part, like with the launch of Johnnie Walker Double Black. In the bourbon category, the company successfully launched Bulleit Bourbon & Rye, a small but fast-growing brand. On top of that, there is also the premium category, with gift wrapping for Blue Label.
“We will consistently keep up our investments in Johnnie Walker Red Label, that has been around for nearly 200 years. This fall, we will introduce a major innovation, called Johnny Walker Red Rye Finish, an exclusive blend developed by our master blender Jim Beveridge. He managed to merge the depth and character of Scottish whisky with the sweet and spicy nature of bourbon. It will surprise you! We will launch it sometime soon, but only in limited numbers right now."
Diageo is very ambitious. "Europe now contributes about 2 billion pounds' worth of turnover, but we are aiming for 3 billion pounds within the next 5 years. We currently only have a 2.7 % market share in the European alcohol market, which means we still have plenty of room to grow."