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Single Malt Players Aim To Maintain Strong Momentum Heading Into Holiday Season

November 13, 2019

While single malt Scotch whisky distillers and importers are weighing how best to surmount the challenge presented by the 25% tariffs recently imposed on the category in the U.S., they remain bullish that malts will continue their strong long-term trend.

Single malts have been the main growth driver for Scotch whisky in the U.S. lately, collectively crossing 1.7 million cases on a 4.5% increase last year, according to Impact Databank. By comparison, blended Scotch was up just 0.3%. Single malt’s momentum has been ongoing thus far in 2019, with Nielsen channels registering 5% volume growth and a 6% gain in dollar value in the 52 weeks through October 5. Meanwhile, the single malt segment was up 4% on a volume basis in control states over the first nine months of the year.

“Generally speaking, consumers have been looking for higher-end offerings, and single malt is well positioned to benefit from that trend,” says Michael Giardina, brand director for Glenfiddich at William Grant & Sons USA. “Innovation continues to be a core driver for the category, and a key way to differentiate with consumers who are constantly in search of what’s new and interesting.” Glenfiddich’s most recent extension, Grand Cru ($300 a 750-ml.), is a 23-year-old liquid finished in French casks previously used for aging sparkling wine. Glenfiddich was up 4% by volume in Nielsen channels over the 52 weeks through October 5, while stablemate The Balvenie increased 8%.

“Single malt Scotch brands in the ultra-premium and prestige segments are outgrowing the competition,” says Raul Gonzalez, vice president, marketing and business development for The Macallan at Edrington USA. This past June saw the launch of The Macallan Estate ($250), distilled with barley grown on the brand’s Easter Elchies estate in Speyside. In September followed Macallan Edition No. 5 ($120), a non-chill filtered blend of whiskies assembled from ex-Bourbon barrels and hogsheads, all made from American oak. The Macallan is now above a quarter-million cases in the U.S., according to Impact Databank.

The Glenlivet remains the top single malt brand in the U.S., and has also been investing in innovation. This summer, brand owner Pernod Ricard released The Glenlivet 14-Year-Old ($55), which is matured in American oak and first-fill Sherry casks before being finished in Cognac casks. The Glenlivet sells above 400,000 cases in the U.S. annually, and is up about 9% in Nielsen channels over the past year.

Diageo’s top three single malt brands—Oban (+20.3%), Lagavulin (+20.5%), and Dalwhinnie (+34.2%)—each grew by double digits in the U.S. last year, and have continued that robust pace so far in 2019. Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of whiskies at Diageo North America, notes that the company’s single malts were up 30% in its fiscal year through June. Most recently, Diageo added to its malt lineup with Six Kingdoms, a 15-year-old Mortlach that marks the final release in its Game of Thrones series.—Mary Keefe


U.S. ̶ Top Eight Single Malt Scotch Whisky Brands
(thousands of 9-liter case depletions)
Rank Brand Importer 2017 2018 Percent
1 The Glenlivet Pernod Ricard USA 420 429 2.3%
2 The Macallan Edrington Americas 250 261 4.6%
3 Glenfiddich William Grant & Sons USA 201 206 2.3%
4 Glenmorangie Moët Hennessy USA 115 118 2.5%
5 The Balvenie William Grant & Sons USA 106 110 3.6%
6 Laphroaig Beam Suntory 71 73 2.0%
7 Oban Diageo North America 50 61 20.3%
8 Lagavulin Diageo North America 45 55 20.5%
Total Top Eight2 1,258 1,312 4.2%
Other Brands 390 410 5.2%
Total Single Malt 1,648 1,722 4.5%
1 based on unrounded data

2 addition of columns may not agree due to rounding

Source: IMPACT DATABANK © 2019

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