Malt whisky shakes off the myth of age

While malt whisky is traditionally considered a tipple of the connoisseur, many producers are now trying to attract younger drinkers

Malt whisky is attempting to shake off its image of being a tipple enjoyed by aged connoisseurs and members of gentlemen’s clubs.

William Grant & Sons’ (William Grant) Glenfiddich, the UK’s biggest selling malt, is preparing to woo a generation of drinkers – reared on lager and vodka – with a global repositioning campaign.

William Grant is launching an international press and poster campaign for the malt on November 1. The ads, created by McCann-Erickson, aim to attract new drinkers and establish Glenfiddich as a modern brand.

While blended whiskies such as Bell’s and Johnnie Walker appeal to young men, malt whiskies are seen as old-fashioned and more upmarket.

Although the UK blended whisky market is worth about seven times as much as malt, its market share dropped in the year ending August 2001 to &£725m compared with &£730m in the year ending August 1999. Over the same period the malt whisky market rose from &£92m to &£104m.

Brand consultancy Tutssel Enterprise IG (Tutssel) managing director Glen Tutssel says that blended whiskies and mainstream malts, such as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, act as an introduction to premium malts, which can be seen as intimidating for consumers who have never tried them before.

He says: “Malt whisky is all about connoisseurship. People pride themselves on knowing about the distilling process and a brand’s heritage, and being able to share that with other consumers. It is a bit like wine, in the sense that people like to discover a new wine for themselves.”

Limited edition and vintage malts, which can sell for several hundred pounds a bottle, add to the snob value of the sector and help cement malt’s reputation as a drink for connoisseurs.

This week, Highland Distilleries announced the launch of two Macallan vintages, The Macallan 1951 and The Macallan 1961, which will be sold for &£1,500 and &£750 respectively. And Tutssel recently developed a “nosing kit” for Guinness UDV to promote its six Classic Malts. The kit contains spray bottles of the malts, which allow consumers to smell before they buy.

According to Glenfiddich international marketing director Tim Dewey, the whisky market has become more fragmented in recent years. As drinks companies launch pure malt versions of their blended whiskies – such as Guinness UDV’s Johnnie Walker Pure Malt – the distinction between malt and premium blended whiskies is becoming blurred.

There is also division within the malt whisky category, with premium brands such as Guinness UDV’s Classic Malt range, including Oban and Talisker, and Allied Domecq’s Laphroaig targeting the connoisseur market, while mainstream malts such as Glenfiddich compete with premium blended whiskies.

Dewey says: “Not only is Glenfiddich aiming to increase its share of the malt whisky market, but it also aims to take a share of the premium blended whiskies market, which includes Johnnie Walker Black and Chivas.”

He says many young consumers are turned off by the traditional image of malt whisky drinkers as “connoiseurs” – who pride themselves on knowing everything about the distilling processes of the various brands.

The traditional way to drink malt whisky is with a splash of water. But in order to encourage a new generation of drinkers to try Glenfiddich, William Grant has developed a number of ways to drink the malt by mixing it with fresh ginger and lime, or with flamed orange.

Dewey adds that while Glenfiddich wants to target a younger market, it is aiming to recruit 27to 44year-olds, rather than the 18to 24year-old youth.

According to William Grant, Glenfiddich holds about 20 per cent of the global malt whisky market, with its biggest share in the UK, the US and France. The global campaign will also include markets such as Japan, South America, Spain, Canada and Sweden, which are all seen as ripe for growth.

Unlike the vodka and gin sectors, which are dominated by the global drinks giants, small independent companies own the main UK malt brands – Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie.

Dewey says that big drinks companies, such as Guinness UDV and Diageo, are reluctant to try to build their malts into big brands for fear that they will eat into the market of their blended whiskies.

Guinness UDV spent more than &£1m on marketing malt whiskies last year, with activity focused on customer relationship management programmes such as its “Friends of Classic Malts”, rather than above-the-line advertising. Its marketing activity is designed to encourage consumers to move to super-premium and rare malts by building their expertise. The company says that it about to announce a new marketing initiative for its malts.

Glen Gribbon, marketing director of Kyndal International, the company set up last week after the management buy out of Jim Beam Brands Europe, agrees that malt whisky is becoming more accessible.

He says: “The days when people bought a bottle of malt every Christmas and left it in the cupboard until the following year are over. A brand like Glenfiddich can help introduce younger consumers to malt whisky, who may then move on and experiment with other more challenging malts.”

With consumers looking for quality and genuine brand heritage, William Grant is in a good position to catch those who have grown out of alcopops, but are not quite ready for their first nosing kit.

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