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Diageo Aims To Unlock Growth For Johnnie Walker By Expanding Scotch Whisky’s Audience

November 5, 2020

In value terms, it doesn’t get any bigger than Johnnie Walker in the global spirits industry. According to Impact Databank, the Diageo-owned blended Scotch giant’s retail sales value was at $5.5 billion last year, placing it about $765 million ahead of Hennessy Cognac, the second most valuable spirits brand worldwide. While this year has presented more than its share of challenges—with the brand navigating through on-premise shutdowns in key markets both in the U.S. and globally—Johnnie Walker rose 11% by volume in Nielsen channels in the 39 weeks through October 3, after slipping 3% to 1.85 million cases in the U.S. overall in 2019, according to Impact Databank.

Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of whiskies at Diageo North America, recently told SND that the plan is to diversify and expand Johnnie Walker’s U.S. audience moving forward. “We need to invite new people into the Scotch world, and in order to do that, we must become more diverse, more inclusive, and more progressive,” she said.

Kelly points to releases like Jane Walker, an expanded focus on cocktails, partnerships with key cultural figures, and advocacy initiatives with groups like the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign as ways to bring in new consumers, and, in the last case, give back to communities in need. “With partners like Sophia Bush, Chicano Batman, and 88Rising, we’re reaching more diverse consumers and gaining momentum in important conversations that are pushing boundaries in this country,” Kelly explained.

Diageo is now gearing up for the holiday season with a number of special Johnnie Walker bottlings coinciding with the brand’s 200th anniversary. Kelly highlighted “three new-to-world blends launched in the U.S. market”: Johnnie Walker Blue Label Legendary Eight, John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend, and John Walker & Sons Bicentenary Blend. Blue Label Legendary Eight is a mix of whiskies from eight distilleries that all existed in 1820, including liquid from long-closed “ghost” distilleries. The Celebratory Blend is inspired by the flavors found in the Walker family’s grocery store during the 1860s, and is composed of a blend of whiskies from distilleries operating at that time. The Bicentenary Blend includes liquid from ghost distilleries such as Pittyvaich, Cambus, and the soon to be re-opened Port Ellen, all aged at least 28 years.

Coming off its bicentennial year in 2020, Johnnie Walker will open the doors to a new visitor experience on Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland next summer. The new Johnnie Walker experience is part of a wider £185 million ($240m) Diageo investment into Scotch whisky tourism. The company says the new site will guide visitors through the 200-year history of the brand and its Scottish heritage, and include rooftop bars with views of Edinburgh Castle and the city skyline, among other attractions.—Shane English

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