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Comment: Distillers still toast exports despite volume dip

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  • by PETER RANSCOMBE
 

A DROP in the volume of whisky being exported from Scotland is bound to raise a few eyebrows, especially when one of the biggest percentage falls came from France, traditionally one of Scotch’s strongest markets.

The French developed a taste for whisky in the second half of the 1800s after their grapevines were attacked by phylloxera, a tiny insect that destroyed vineyards and decimated wine and brandy production.

So a 19 per cent drop in French imports may seem like cause for concern. Yet, digging into the data, the numbers don’t tell the full story.

French wholesalers placed bumper orders in the previous year, ahead of a rise in duty. The figures for the first half of the current year will give us a much-better idea of levels of demand.

Globally, the volume of Scotch sold may have fallen by 5 per cent, but the value of those exports edged up by a percentage point, chiming with the ongoing theme that drinkers are switching from cheaper blends into more-expensive single malts and “premium” and “super-premium” blends.

The slowdown in whisky sales in Mediterranean countries – which has been highlighted in The Scotsman over the past six months – has been triggered by the eurozone debt crisis and its effect on consumer spending.

Breaking down the data from the Scotch Whisky Association also shows the continued growth from emerging markets, with China up 8 per cent, Mexico rising by 16 per cent and India 17 per cent higher despite a 150 per cent import tariff still stifling sales.

The United States, a market that was being written off by some commentators a decade ago, has rediscovered its thirst for Scotch, with sales up 16 per cent to £758m.

Other sectors would kill for the emerging market sales whisky enjoys and distillers are voting with their wallets, pumping £2 billion into expansion for the decade ahead. Scotch is far from being on the rocks.

IT could learn lessons from games industry

I remember when the first BBC computers arrived at our primary school – they looked like something from another planet and captured the imagination of a generation of Highlanders. Now the IT sector is struggling to recruit staff, according to trade body ScotlandIS’s annual survey. Cisco Scotland boss Donald McLaughlin told me last week that the industry needs to do more to promote itself, not just in universities but also in schools.

Perhaps lessons could be learned from the computer games sector, where industry body Tiga’s “Young, Independent and Mobile” report reveals an explosion in the number of entrepreneurs setting up their own studios. Beating the drum for sexy areas like games design and animation may also help to recruit staff for geeky areas like networks and servers.

 

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