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Entry-level malts lead whisky category to new heights

Published:  23 October, 2019

A raft of innovation has boosted the fortunes and the accessibility of whisk(e)y in the UK, a new report has revealed.

New entrants to the category, like the entry-level malts (ELM) from Aerstone and Glenfairn, have been singled out for moving whisky’s image away from “older gentlemen, sitting next to a roaring fire”, while also adding value to the category over the past two years.

Sales of ELM grew over £6m in the UK off-trade during that time, and have helped the malt whisky category see uplift of 4%.

Whisky now accounts for one in four spirit sales in the UK.

The report, from William Grant & Sons, said ELM has played a “vital role in moving shoppers up the whisk(e)y ladder” by providing an accessible entry point while also maintaining “an aura of something ‘special’ ”.

It has also helped to meet the needs of new age consumers: a third of ELM value sales in the last year came from newcomers to the category.

ELM isn’t the only NPD which is helping whisky extend its reach.

“While ELM is driving strong growth at the lower end of the malt whisky category pricing ladder, the high end, featuring aged whisky statements, is growing just as fast,” the report said.

“The higher end of this category plays a crucial role in both ‘gifting’ and ‘self treat’ missions as shoppers are proud to give it away or be seen enjoying it at home or in a bar. Higher end malt whisky brands sold at an average price of £35+ per 70cl now account for over £22M in the UK off-trade.

"Similarly, malt whisky aged 15 years or more grew by over 12% in the UK on-trade compared to two years ago. This indicates healthy growth for the category, showing that shoppers and consumers are stepping further up the whisky ladder and driving significant value into the market.”

Imported whisky also continues to see stellar growth.

Sales grew by £23m in the past year, with Irish whiskey emerging as the standout.

Irish whiskey rose 21% in the UK off-trade as retailers successfully capitalised on key seasonal dates like St Patrick’s Day. In the on-trade, Irish whiskey is growing at double the rate of the overall imported whiskey category.

Japanese whisky is still relatively small within the whisky universe (only 1% of total imported share). But it continues to grow by almost £2m year-on-year, with shortages and the limited availability only adding to its popularity and cachet.

William Grant & Sons’ Trending 2020 report is the ninth edition of the company's deep dive into the UK drinks industry, spanning beers, wines, spirits and softs. Consumer data is taken from CGA Brand Track and Kantar Worldpanel to 16 June 2019.