Walker hails profits as BenRiach eye more deals

Billy Walker is a master blender and Master of the Quaich ' the highest honour the whisky world can bestow. Picture: TSPL

Billy Walker is a master blender and Master of the Quaich ' the highest honour the whisky world can bestow. Picture: TSPL

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Single malt distiller BenRiach is mulling further acquisitions after last year’s purchase of Glenglassaugh helped its annual profits more than double.

The Speyside firm, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, has also benefited from “unprecedented” demand at home and abroad for Scotland’s national drink, with Taiwan established as its largest export market.

Managing director Billy Walker, pictured below, said: “We have a wide customer base and currently ship to over 40 countries. However, there is still potential for growth in the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and much of South America.”

Walker, who teamed up with South African businessmen Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter to buy BenRiach in 2004, also said that Africa offered “untapped” potential for whisky exports, adding: “I see it as our duty and responsibility to develop all of these new markets.”

Four years after taking over the mothballed BenRiach distillery, the team added Huntly-based GlenDronach to the portfolio, with a bottling plant at Newbridge following in 2010, and Walker has not ruled out further deals.

A master blender and Master of the Quaich – the highest honour the whisky world can bestow – Walker said: “If something came up adding balance to the business, we’d consider it. But we are not going to diversify. I know nothing other than whisky.”

BenRiach unveiled record pre-tax profits of £8.9 million for 2013, a surge of 116 per cent on the previous year, on turnover 39.4 per cent higher at £34.5m.

Its Newbridge facility offers five bottling lines including the country’s fastest miniature line. The site has the capacity to produce two million cases a year for a number of spirits brands and can accommodate up to 150,000 cases in its bonded warehouse.

Ten years ago the company’s headcount stood at 12, but since then the workforce has swelled to 120 amid what Walker described as a “golden period” for the industry.

Recent figures from the Scotch Whisky Association show overseas sales amounted to £4.3 billion last year, unchanged in value, but up 3 per cent to the equivalent of 1.3 billion bottles by volume.

Overall, whisky represents about 85 per cent of Scottish food and drink exports and nearly a quarter of the British total. France is the largest overseas market in volume terms, while last year’s sales of £819m make the United States the biggest market for Scotch by value.

Walker added: “There’s unprecedented demand for high-end brands like ours in places such as Asia, North America, Russia and Europe as well as in our home market.

“It’s been a fascinating journey over the past ten years, though I’m not sure that when we bought the train ticket we quite knew where the destination was. We’ll see where that journey takes us in the next 
ten years.”

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