Scotland business

Decline in Scotch whisky exports 'slowing'

Whisky bottles Image copyright Thinkstock

The decline in Scotch whisky exports in recent years is showing signs of slowing, according to a report.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said the customs value of overseas sales fell by 2.4% last year to £3.86bn.

The figure compared with a 7% fall in the previous year.

The volume of whisky exports was down by 2.8% to 1.16 billion bottles - the equivalent of 34 bottles being shipped from Scotland every second.

SWA said consumer demand for single malt continued to be strong, with shipments up from £914m in 2014 to £916.4m last year.

According to SWA analysis of HMRC statistics, single malts accounted for nearly 25% of the value Scotch whisky exports in 2015, up from 18% five years ago.

Blends remained the biggest category (£2.77bn), accounting for 72% of the global value of exports.

The US, the biggest export destination for Scotch, remained steady at £749m - nearly a fifth of all exports - while sales to Japan were up 18% to £76m.

There was also growth in a number of emerging markets, with Mexico up 17% to £115m, Turkey up 24% to almost £53m and China returning to the top 20 markets with an increase of 5% to £41m.

However, SWA found sales were affected in countries whose economies were driven by oil and other commodities.

The industry body said the recession in Brazil in particular had "a notable impact" on overall export figures. The fifth largest market by volume in 2014, sales to Brazil dropped by 20% in 2015.

Image copyright SWA

Analysis by Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland business editor

From Athens and Madrid to Caracas and Recife and on to Shanghai - Scotch whisky did well in attracting a cosmopolitan clientele, but not so well in picking the countries in which it has excelled.

In southern Europe's nightclubs to oil-enriched South America and lubricating the business deals of China, economic difficulties and official disapproval have combined to put the brakes on rapid growth.

So it has turned Scotch back to its two big export markets - the USA, which leads on value, and France, the clear leader on volume.

Some other destinations, according to HMRC figures, get big figures as distribution hubs. Germany supplies much of Central Europe. The Baltic states funnel Scotch to Russia.

Singapore is the staging post for freight containers bound for further sea miles across east Asia and Australasia. These make it hard to see precisely where these exports go.

But whisky going to the US tends to stay in the States. Its image has been of the drink for up-market mature golfers. Smart marketing has also carved out a young clientele wanting to sample the range of single malts.

That 'premiumisation' of whisky has taken single malts close to quarter of exports by value.

Cheaper bulk exports have held relatively steady, a lot of them bound for Asia.

But blends have been in quite a steep decline, from £3.27bn of exports in 2011 to £2.71bn in 2015. To the rest of the European Union, the decline has been 29%.

Single malt exports have risen in that time from a total of £745m to £916m last year.

At £365m value in EU exports, that's nearly 40% of the value of sales into the trading bloc.

At £272m, that's nearly 30% of North American sales by value.

As UK sales of whisky showed last year with a modest reversal after years of decline, also achieved through single malts, it can pay off to stick with the mature and less exciting markets too.

SWA chief executive David Frost said: "Scotch whisky exports continue to deliver and the fundamentals for future growth are strong.

"Whilst the last couple of years have been more difficult, the longer-term picture has been one of increased demand, new investment, and premiumisation.

"Challenges remain, with an uncertain global economy and political uncertainty in some export markets."

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