Whisky toasts youth market

The decline of the whisky market during the early Nineties shows signs of being reversed by a growth among young drinkers, seduced by Irish, US and traditional brands. But the sector needs effective advertising targeted at younger drinkers if

Whisky purchase/consumption

Exclusive research conducted by NOP shows that 30 per cent of all adults aged over 18 had drunk some type of whisky in the four weeks leading up to December 15, the peak period for whisky sales, when consumption trebles compared with the rest of the year.

Nearly twice as many people drink whisky at home as in the on-trade: 48 per cent of drinkers had drunk only at home, compared with 12 per cent who drank only in pubs.

Whisky has an unusual drinkers’ profile, peaking at the extreme ends of the age spectrum, among under-25- and over-55-year-olds. Incidence of drinking is lowest in the 25 to 34 age group. The market may be pulling out of the decline of the early Nineties, following the pattern of vodka and white rum. These spirits established a base of young drinkers, who then stayed loyal as they grew older. At the moment, however, the older drinkers are the most important part of the whisky market, making up a third of all its drinkers, compared with the 12 per cent aged under-25.

The two age groups of drinkers give the on- and off-trade different brand and product profiles. Three-quarters of young drinkers use pubs or bars, compared with less than a third of the over-55s. Only a third of young adults have bought whisky to drink at home, compared with half of the over-55s.

Two-thirds of whisky drinkers are men. Surprisingly, in view of its origins, there are no more drinkers in the North than in the rest of the country.

Type drunk in past month

Blended scotch is the most popular form of whisky: 18 per cent of adults – 59 per cent of drinkers – drank it in the six weeks prior to the research. Single malt also enjoyed a high penetration: 41 per cent of drinkers. Irish and Bourbon had both been drunk by over a fifth. Canadian was the only type drunk by less than one in ten drinkers.

The direction of the market is highlighted by the different age groups’ choice of whisky. The mainstay of the market, the over-55-year-olds, are strongly attached to blended scotch, making up nearly half of its drinkers. Malt also appeals to older tastes: four out of five drinkers being over-35.

In contrast, Irish and US whiskies appeal mainly to younger drinkers, with the highest levels found among the under-25s. These unusual whiskies maintain the male bias of traditional Scotches, so the manufacturers are missing out on the expanding market of female drinkers, where much of the success of vodka and white rum was founded.

Brands bought to drink/serve at home

More people had bought whisky to drink or serve at home than had drunk it themselves – 40 per cent versus 30 per cent of adults. A quarter of recent buyers, therefore, bought only for other people’s consumption, most probably as part of the alcoholic stock-up for Christmas entertaining.

The non-drinking purchasers even out the market bias between men and women. Women make up nearly half of off-trade buyers. The North is the most important region for home purchase: 44 per cent of adults in the North have bought whisky to drink at home, compared with 36 per cent in the rest of the country.

Purchasers named over 30 brands they had bought in the preceding six weeks; the majority – 61 per cent – had bought only one brand.The market is dominated by Bell’s with 38 per cent of buyers, twice as many as the next most popular brand, Teacher’s. Famous Grouse came third, with 16 per cent, and Glenfiddich – the only single malt in the top eight – fourth with 14 per cent. Bourbon, in the form of Jack Daniels, achieved eight per cent, Grant’s six per cent and White Horse five per cent of buyers.

Spontaneous advertising recall

Fifty-nine per cent of all adults over 18 recalled advertising for at least one brand. Awareness rose to 69 per cent in the North, compared with 46 per cent in the South. Two-thirds of men compared with half of women remembered some whisky advertising, reflecting the male bias of the market.

Advertising recall is generally in line with brand purchase. Bell’s heads the table with 25 per cent, followed by Famous Grouse and Teacher’s with 13 and 12 percent, and Glenfiddich with six per cent. Whyte & Mackay scored five per cent or more, although its sales have not yet caught up with its awareness.

Reasons for buying or choosing a brand

Nearly three-quarters of buyers and drinkers selected a brand because it was “one of the ones I always buy”, unsurprising in a market biased towards older consumers and with many non-drinking buyers. Experimentation, although affecting only 19 per cent of buyers in total, was dragged down by its low influence on older drinkers. It increased to 25 per cent of under-25-year-olds, and 33 per cent of young male drinkers.

Personal recommendation influenced a third of buyers. It is particularly important in the North and among single malt drinkers, perhaps because of the distinctive character of these whiskies, and their premium image.

The contrast between the im-pact of “special offers” at 31 per cent of buyers, and being “cheaper than other brands” at 23 per cent, relates to the prestige nature of the market.

Special offers give the consumer the opportunity to buy a well-known brand at a lower price, without compromising on perceived quality. This is especially important for a product which is likely to be offered to guests in an identifiable form.

Given the high levels of awareness, advertising had surprisingly little influence on brand choice.

Only 14 per cent agreed that they had been affected by television advertising, 11 per cent by magazine ads, and nine per cent by posters.

Posters and print are most effective among the young, but, very unusually, the highest proportion of consumers influenced by television advertising is in the over-55s.

Given that this group is the least likely to try new brands, manufacturers surely need to increase the appeal of its television advertising among the young if they are to nurture growth in the market.

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