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Blended Scotch Marketers Test Higher Price Points

November 2, 2022

The makers of blended Scotch whisky are refreshing their portfolios with new age statements and barrel finishes, as well as exploring creative promotional tie-ins to revive the segment, which has hovered around 5.7 million cases in the U.S. lately. Category leader Johnnie Walker has launched myriad expressions with each passing year, and has prospered in the process, ranking as the largest spirits brand worldwide in terms of retail value at more than $5.2 billion, according to Impact Databank, while reaching U.S. volume of 2 million cases. Now an increasing number of its rivals are borrowing from that playbook and expanding their offerings. And marketers who were once cautious about pricing above the key $25 a 750-ml. threshold have found that consumers today aren’t balking at prices north of $30 for interesting super-premium blends.

The category’s second-largest brand, Dewar’s, is a good example. Dewar’s White Label ($22 a 750-ml.) is supplemented by premium portfoliomates including 12-year-old ($30), and 15-year-old ($40). Meanwhile, Dewar’s Double Double 32-year-old, which is finished in Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks, has sold so well at $150 a 375-ml. that owner Bacardi was forced to allocate supply. Now the company is launching a Double Double 21-year-old in a 750-ml. format priced at $100.

Perhaps a more far-reaching innovation at Dewar’s is the recent release of the “reimagined” Dewar’s 12-year-old ($30 a 750-ml.). The new 12-year-old emphasizes first-fill Bourbon casks in the aging process to create a fresh taste profile. “Long term, it’s important for Scotch whisky to compete not just in the $50-and-above segments—otherwise, Scotch will become a high-end niche product and be challenged by premiumization from other categories,” says Brian Cox, vice president of Dewar’s for North America. “It’s important to have a position in every segment where consumers are. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Monkey Shoulder ($32) is another brand on the move, technically part of the blended malt segment. Emily Ivers, brand marketing director at William Grant & Sons, notes that sales volume in the premium segment of blended Scotch—priced from $22-$26—was down 9% overall last year. But super-premium sales volume, encompassing Scotch priced $30-$45, was up 22%.

“Super-premium has been very strong,” says Ivers. “As for premium’s decline, that will be hard to reverse.” She notes that many consumers are now entering the blended Scotch category from American whiskey and single malt Scotch. “People are no longer starting at a value-oriented standard entry point,” she adds. “We’re encouraging consumers to be much less precious about blended Scotch—use it in cocktails that you love.”

Another brand testing higher price points has been Compass Box. In the past year the brand has released such variations as its Orchard House ($50 a 750-ml.), Experimental Grain Whisky ($150) and, rarest of all, the Vellichor ($450), whose name is defined as “the scent of old bookshops.” Some of these labels are exceedingly limited, as is the case with Compass Box Circle No. 2 ($130), a 46% abv whisky blended primarily from Glen Elgin malts that was released in July. Market Watch has more on the landscape for blended Scotch whisky in the U.S. market.

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