SINGULAR SENSATIONS

When discussing single malt Scotch, there’s good news, and then there’s very good news.

The good news is that virtually every major brand of single malt Scotch increased sales in 1996, and estimates are that the entire category has continued growing at a double-digit rate through 1997. The very good news is that the atmosphere for the continued growth of the single malt Scotch segment couldn’t be better.

The U.S. economy is in better shape than it has been for years, and a growing number of consumers are trading up to high-quality, superpremium whiskies of all types. In addition, during the past few years, single malt Scotch has acquired a distinctive cachet. The uniqueness of character and style that is attached to a single distillery has become tremendously appealing to knowledgeable consumers. And as both suppliers and retailers emphasize product knowledge and education with consumers, interest — and experimentation — increases. Indeed, overall sales of the segment will be up about 14% in 1997, according to estimates from Adams Media research.

Encouraged by the robust sales, suppliers are rolling out line extensions and other new products aimed at capturing heretofore unexplored niches. For example, a recent development has been the creative use of different types of wood used in aging casks in order to create more flavor nuances. Brown-Forman Beverages was among the first to experiment in this regard, and introduced Glenmorangie Port Wood Finished 12-year-old single malt into selected markets in 1995. The brand is aged 10 years in used bourbon casks, followed by two years in used port pipes (barrels). The product soon sold out and was in such strong demand that the distillery released two additions to its Glenmorangie line last year: Madeira Wood Finish and Oloroso Sherry Finish.

The company’s trio of specially aged 12 year olds are seeing “phenomenal sales, particularly through the summer when we would traditionally see a lull,” said John Vidal, manager of consumer development for Brown-Forman Beverages. “The wood finishes are very much a varietal concept,” Vidal said, “which is just like a winery having varietal wines. In the future, we want to experiment with other wood finishes, ones that make sense, are good-tasting and have a nice complementary balance on top of the bourbon-wood aging.” Indeed, Brown-Forman will introduce a 14- to 16-year-old claret wood-finish product by spring or early summer in “very limited quantities,” Vidal noted, and primarily in some of the major metropolitan areas.

Other companies are also playing in this arena. The Balvenie, a line of three single malts from William Grant & Sons, has just debuted The Balvenie PortWood 21-year-old single malt, retailing for about $60 per 750 ml bottle.

Aberlour, imported by Austin, Nichols, just added two new single malts to its lineup: the 15-year-old Sherry Finish Single Malt Whisky (retailing for about $35 per 750 ml bottle) and the 18-year-old Sherry Matured Single Malt Whisky (retailing for about $50).

Clearly, the wood a malt whisky matures in has always been an important consideration for distillers. Seagram Americas’ Scotch category manager Bob Dubin explained that “a Scotch, whether it be single malt or blend, is aged. Out of the still, it has no color, and some sort of an off taste to it. It’s really through the aging process that a Scotch gets its total flavor and color.”

UD’s 12-year-old Glen Ord, which has been on the market for two years, is aged 25% in sherry casks and 75% in used oak bourbon barrels, giving it a “sweeter, softer taste,” said Martin Slattery, senior marketing manager. The company is currently looking at different wood finishes, he added, “but we’re not at the point where it’s going to be commercialized yet.”

Some marketers have a slightly different view. “The Macallan has one finish, and it’s the foundation of the company,” said Hilary Peck, marketing director for cognac and single malt Scotch, Remy Amerique. “It’s the most traditional way that Scotch has been made, which is a sherry oak finish. It’s a very specific type of sherry, primarily an Oloroso sherry. For The Macallan, every single drop spends all of its life in sherry wood. It’s not a finish, it’s a style.”

Other New Products

Barton Brands began importing Speyburn in December 1993. The brand is expected to have sales of about 13,000 9-liter cases by the end of 1997, according to Adams Media research, making Speyburn the seventh-leading single malt Scotch in the U.S. By early next year, Barton will also begin importing a 12-year-old single malt called Old Pulteney from Wick, the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland. The 12-year-old product’s graphics and collateral materials will reflect the area’s seafaring history.

Barton chose to go with Old Pulteney to plumb a new niche: while Speyburn has traditionally been viewed as an introductory single malt, Pulteney is intended for the more traditional single malt consumer, according to Jack Kavanagh, brand manager for brown goods. Speyburn, a 10-year-old Scotch, retails for $18.99 to $19.99 for a 750 ml bottle. Old Pulteney will retail ranging from the upper $20s to low $30s.

Earlier this year, Hiram Walker, which markets 10-year-old Laphroaig, introduced a 15-year-old Glendronach, aged in sherry casks from Spain. Another recent introduction was Scapa, a 12-year-old malt from Orkney. The three are bundled under a program called The Defenders of the Malt. As a special offering this holiday season, according to brand manager Marshall Dawson, Hiram Walker is offering a limited supply of a new 30-year-old Laphroaig retailing for about for $250 a bottle.

Schieffelin & Somerset also debuted a new single malt earlier this year: Loch Dhu, The Black Whisky Single Malt Scotch. The 10-year-old malt had been in test markets and was rolled out nationally this summer. National marketing efforts are scheduled for 1998. The Scotch, which is aged in double-charred oak casks, retails for $25 to $30.

Highland Park, imported by IDV North America, will be introducing two bottlings to join its 12-year-old: 18 Year Old Highland Park Single Malt and 25 Year Old Highland Park Single Malt.

And Heaven Hill Distilleries is scheduled to debut a 15-year-old Isle of Jura Single Malt Whisky, which will join the 10-year-old already in the U.S. market.

Turning Up The Volume

The most popular single malt Scotches remain The Glenlivet, from Seagram Americas, and Glenfiddich, from William Grant & Sons. By itself, The Glenlivet brand accounts for about one-third of all single malt Scotch sales in the U.S., and 1997 sales are estimated to have increased 15.3%, to 196,000 9-liter cases. According to Scotch category manager Dubin, Seagram’s other single malt offerings called The Heritage Selection — including Longmorn, Strathisla, Benriach and Glen Keith — are doing well, with total sales of about 4,000 cases in 1996. And, although it’s not a single malt, the company’s Chivas Brothers Century of Malts was introduced last April. The new brand incorporates a blend of 100 single malts representing all the Scotch-producing regions of Scotland, and, Dubin said, it has been “a tremendous success” since its debut.

Glenfiddich increased its sales an estimated 3.1% in 1997, to 100,000 cases, according to Adams Media research. Last fall, the company introduced Glenfiddich Cask Strength, a single malt Scotch, which features a “much higher proof and a real robust flavor,” according to company spokesperson Leah Karliner.

Estimates are that The Macallan, from Remy Amerique, also had a stellar year in 1997, with more than a 20% sales increase, notching the rank of third-best-selling single malt Scotch brand. The company’s other brands, such as the 12-year-old Bunnahabhain, are “pretty much all booming,” noted marketing director Peck.

And the fourth-best-selling single malt Scotch, Brown-Forman’s Glenmorangie, continues to expand its sales base, with estimates for 1997 showing an increase of 25%.

Schieffelin & Somerset’s Classic Malts Collection continues to be “quite healthy,” said product group director Leah Russell, with the company looking for a 20% improvement on its 1996 total of 50,000 cases. The collection includes Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Cragganmore, Talisker, Oban and Dalwhinnie, which range in price from the low $30s to high $40s. Indeed, preliminary estimates show Lagavulin up 42.9% and Oban up 31.3% in 1997.

Another fast-growing single malt has been Glen Ord, marketed by United Distillers USA. This year, the company says, sales are expected to jump to about 5,800 9-liter cases from about 4,260 9-liter cases last year.

Education

With the marketing emphasis shifted more than ever before to new, experimental drinkers, the availability of information has become crucial.

“We’re finding more and more consumers entering the category who don’t even know what defines a single malt,” said Schieffelin & Somerset’s Russell, “so it’s real entry- level. What we’ve been doing with our brand is trying to focus most of our efforts on providing education.”

Schieffelin & Somerset’s Classic Malts of Scotland are “benefiting very nicely from that because what we offer is kind of the classic journey through the six Scotch-producing regions of Scotland,” she added. “These people can enter the category and buy a sample pack with a 50 ml of each of the six brands and figure out what kind of drinker they are.” The sample pack sells for about $20.

A web site (www.scotch.com), toll-free number, direct mail program and The Classic Malts Society, which provides an informational newsletter, are all aimed at educating new single malt consumers. “We’re going to make the newsletter more user-friendly so it talks to these entry-level consumers rather than just providing very, very detailed information to the connoisseur.”

Education remains key, agreed Brown-Forman’s Vidal. “It’s just like when the fighting varietals began about eight to 10 years ago. There was a lot of clutter and a lot of similar-looking labels and names, but there was still no definition to them. If you walked into a wine store back then the brands that actually jumped off the shelf were the ones that had more information and actually spoke to the consumer. The consumer today wants simplicity, an easy choice, and if they’re experimenting, they want to know that what they’re paying $35 for is going to be flavorful for them.”

Marketing 1998

Following the promotional bonanza this holiday season, several companies outlined merchandising plans for 1998. The year ahead will see Speyburn deepen its involvement in fly-fishing, which Kavanagh labeled “the niche we’ve been trying to pursue.” A program that will lead into Father’s Day and run throughout the summer features a free, specially produced Orvis fly-fishing guide. “Fly-fishing, if you look at it demographically, dovetails with the single malt Scotch consumer. It’s amazing. The people who like to fly-fish tend to mirror the single malt consumer.”

Jim Beam Brands, which markets The Dalmore, is planning a cigar-holder mail-in offer for next year. Executives will also roll out an off-premise display rack with a built-in humidor.

The next 12 months may see some line extensions on Glen Ord, “different ages, maybe even a different finish,” said UD USA’s Slattery. The marketing plan includes possible value-added packaging, more advertising and Scotch seminars around the country.

Glenmorangie will offer a gift set that combines its 10 year old with a set of Scotch glasses. There will also be case cards and shelf-talkers to merchandise it. The goal is for consumers scanning the shelves to “find something that speaks to them, as to what they might expect from our products.”

Clearly, single malt Scotch has been “speaking” to lots of consumers these days. And that’s the kind of talk that turns into profits.

Leading brands of Single Malt Scotch
(Thousands of 9-Liter Cases)

Brands Supplier 1996 1997 (e) % Change
The Glenlivet Seagram Americas 170.0 196.0 15.3%
Glenfiddich William Grant & Sons 97.0 100.0 3.1%
The Macallan Remy Amerique 38.5 46.5 20.8%
Glenmorangie Brown-Forman Beverages 22.0 27.5 25.0%
The Balvenie William Grant & Sons 15.0 20.0 33.3%
Lagavulin Schieffelin & Somerset 10.5 15.0 42.9%
Speyburn Barton Inc. 10.0 13.0 30.0%
Laphroaig Hiram Walker 9.0 12.5 38.9%
Glen Deveron Palm Bay Imports 10.0 12.0 20.0%
The Dalmore Jim Beam Brands 9.6 11.5 19.8%
Aberlour Austin, Nichols 9.1 11.5 26.4%
Oban Schieffelin & Somerset 8.0 10.5 31.3%
Others 90.8 93.3 2.8%
Total Single Malt Scotch 499.5 569.3 14.0%
(e) Estimated.
Source: Adams Liquor Handbook 1997.


A Selection Of Single Malt Scotch
Holiday Merchandising Programs

Brand
Glenmorangie
(Brown-Forman Beverages)

Program
Case cards and shelf talkers touting the Glenmorangie Distillery’s Annual Gift Exchange, with a take-one pad offering a
hickory-shafted putter imported from Scotland; the putter comes boxed for gift-giving.


Brand
The Glenlivet
(Seagram Americas)

Program
Gift set includes a 750 ml bottle plus two etched rocks glasses; traditional gift cartons for the 12 year old and 18 year old; deluxe case cards and bins.


Brand
Glenfiddich
(William Grant & Sons)

Program
Gift set with a pair of crystal glasses; full line of holiday p-o-s materials.


Brand
Defenders Of The Malt
(Hiram Walker & Sons)

Program
Three-bottle pack of Laphroaig, Glendronach, Scapa (priced between $130 and $165)
packaged with instructional home-tasting video plus 8-page printed version for reference;
toll-free number — 1-888-Def-Malt — for consumers to call.


Brand
The Balvenie
(William Grant & Sons)

Program
Offer of an elegant wooden “tantalus” for
carrying bottles of Scotch; line of p-o-s
materials; gift tins.


Brand
The Heritage Selection
(Seagram Americas)

Program
Gift boxes available with each of the Speyside single malts — Longmorn, Strathilsa, Benriach, Glen Keith.


Brand
Speyburn
(Barton Brands)

Program
Foil-stamped case cards; handsome gift tin; consumer offer for an hour-long cassette of traditional Scottish Christmas music available free where legal.


Brand
The Macallan
(Remy Amerique)

Program
Extensive advertising, promotion and tasting programs running throughout the holidays; The Macallan winter sleeve holiday box, holiday display riser card, two-case wooden bin, etc.


Brand
Glen Ord
(United Distillers USA)

Program
A value-added pack that combines a 750 ml bottle with a special boxed 200 ml bottle.


Brand
The Classic Malts
(Schieffelin & Somerset)

Program
Sample pack of the six brands, each in 50 ml bottles; various p-o-s materials; The Classic Malts Society, newsletter, website, etc.


Brand
The Dalmore
(Jim Beam Brands)

Program
Holiday gift set featuring 750 ml bottle of the 12 year old together with a pair of rocks glasses etched with a stag’s head, the brand’s logo.

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