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Changing market forces push ‘more modern’ whisky breed to the front

Published:  06 April, 2021

Changing market forces are pushing a new, more modern breed of whisky to the forefront, with the evolving category landscape encouraging producers to innovate, according to new IWSR research. 

It found that an increasing interest from millennial consumers – both male and female alike – has prompted some whisky producers to question the way in which whiskies are made, packaged and marketed. 

This new consumer demographic challenged the age-old perceptions of whisky being "a ‘man’s’ drink, one where quality is defined by heritage, age statements or traditional distilling processes", said the IWSR. 

“Over the past few years, there has been a change in how some whisky distillers are bringing their product to market in order to make their whiskies more accessible and relevant to a younger LDA audience,” said Guy Wolfe, strategic insights manager at IWSR. 

“Packaging, brand values and social responsibility cues are increasingly informing the purchasing decisions of a younger, more technologically savvy and adventurous drinker.

“One of the distinguishing features of this new breed of whisky brands is often a focus on image and values rather than the liquid itself. But when brands do focus on the liquid, it’s generally on how they do something slightly differently to the norm,” said Wolfe. 

The research also found that while the evolving whisky consumer was prompting a review of the category’s traditional values, premiumisation in other spirits categories was simultaneously challenging whisky’s stronghold at the higher end of the low-tempo occasion. 

Premium rums and tequilas, for example, were increasingly aligning with sippability cues, whether in high-profile cocktails or to be savoured on their own, said the IWSR. 

"This is giving the whisky drinker opportunities to expand into other categories that offer a similar drinking experience and are prompting whisky producers to diversify their offering in response," said Wolfe.

Furthermore, the research found that for many whisky producers increased demand from a growing middle class in markets like India and China was straining supplies of aged whiskies, another factor in prompting producers to disrupt their traditional thinking and exploring new ways of defining a whisky’s quality.