Lavish packaging and gift sets help position single malt whiskies for extra sales during the holidays.

By Nicolas Furlotte

The most wonderful time of year is upon us once again. For beverage alcohol retailers that means increased sales of higher-priced distilled spirits in general, and single malt whiskies in particular. Like other luxury and high-image items that are benefiting from a robust economy, sales of single malt whiskies are expected to post especially strong sales this holiday season.

Whether for gift-giving, at-home entertaining, or a bit of affordable self-indulgence, single malt whiskies offer a wide range of styles, age designations and esoteric characteristics to satisfy both younger, status-conscious consumers as well as more sophisticated aficionados who simply want to savor the finest.

Fueled in part by consumers’ growing disposable incomes as well as an ongoing quest for the best, the newest or the most expensive, distillers have been crowding retail shelves with a seemingly endless array of limited bottlings, exotic wood finishes and whiskies that have slumbered for 18, 25 and 30 or more years.

In addition, to help retailers maximize holiday sales, single malt marketers have produced an impressive collection of value-added gift sets, gift cartons and in-store merchandising materials designed to spark impulse purchases and enhance the luster and appeal of various brands.

Approximately 22% of total distilled spirits sales nationwide occur during November and December, according to Adams Liquor Handbook with sales of Scotch (both blended and single malt) at a slightly higher level. Scotch also outperforms sales of total imported whiskies during the holidays.


And while total Scotch consumption continues to contract slightly each year, sales of single malts are flourishing. Last year, for example, sales of the leading single malts grew by just over 6%. This contrasts with an overall decline of more than 2% for the entire Scotch category. And total U.S. single malt Scotch sales rose 14.7% to 662,000 9-liter cases.

Among the top 20 single malts tracked by Adams Liquor Handbook 2000, just one posted a decline last year, and that was so small — a mere 1,000 cases — as to be statistically insignificant. What is important is that segment leader The Glenlivet grew by almost 2% to 180,000 cases nationwide last year; Glenfiddich was up more than 4% to 114,000 cases; The Macallan gained 11.1% to 60,000 cases and The Balvenie increased by 24.1% to 36,000 cases. Many other single malts also posted double-digit gains.

“The category is dominated by a couple of big brands but there are a lot of other brands as well,” notes Larry Kass, group marketing manager at Heaven Hill Distilleries, marketer of a small but fast-growing single malt Scotch, Isle of Jura. “There are so many malts out there and consumers are more educated and sophisticated.” As a result, “they are looking for products with unique attributes. The more sophisticated malt consumers will try to experiment” with different styles and malts from different regions. All of which helps drive the segment’s growth.

To feed that growth distillers have introduced a dizzying number of new expressions, unique vintages and special bottlings. To help spur sales, they have crafted an elegant array of point-of-sale materials and gift sets. Herein are a few highlights of just some of this holiday season’s noteworthy offerings:

sb02Glenfiddich 12-year-old “family collection” features the world’s best-selling single malt in a variety of sizes with a newly refined, elegant bottle and cylinder.

sb04The Macallan 12-year-old is the youngest of The Macallan single malts available in the U.S. This holiday season, the 12-year-old is festively packaged with two tumbler-style glasses etched with the brand logo. The Macallan also recently introduced a new expression called, Gran Reserva, a limited edition single malt. The Macallan is produced following age-old techniques including exclusive use of sherry-aged oak casks.

sb03 In a new off-premise promotion, the Glenmorangie experts, aka the Sixteen Men of Tain, lead the holiday celebration with a two-bottle travel bar offer to consumers. Glenmorangie has 10-year-old and 18-year-old designations as well as expressions with Port, Madeira and Sherry wood finishes.

1200sb4Among the 10 best-selling single malts in the U.S., The Dalmore includes 12- and 21-year-old bottlings as well as its relatively new Cigar Malt and a 30-year-old called Stillman’s Dram.

1200sb5 The Balvenie Single Barrel is aged a minimum of 15 years. Each bottle is one of no more than 300 yielded by a single cask. Each cask has slightly different flavor notes. Each bottle is a limited edition, hand lettered, numbered and signed. Portwood is aged a minimum of 21 years. It matures for the first 21 years in American oak and is then transferred for Port casks for finishing.

1200sb6Case card with lug-ons presents snow-capped bottles and boxes of The Glenlivet in the foreground and a snowy holiday setting featuring the distillery in the background while communicating the brand’s theme: “One place. One whisky.”


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