Whisky is not only a product with a rich historical significance, but one that also has great economic importance.
In the UK, Scotch whisky alone stands for a quarter of food and drink exports, and in 2013 pulled in a massive £4.3 billion in trade. Both domestically and internationally, Scotch is clearly the consumers’ whisky of choice, and for many years Scotch brand Johnnie Walker has been the biggest selling whisky in the world.
The number one position held by Johnnie Walker and Scotch in general, however, is quickly being challenged by Indian whisky brands. India itself, while not the biggest consumer of whisky per capita, that title goes to France, is one of the largest and fastest growing markets for whisky sales, and overall, is consumes the most whisky globally.
Note that local whisky in India is more akin to a rum palate we’d be used to experiencing in the West, mostly because the process differed from place to place and often includes the distillation of molasses vs. barley.
Within this, the success of Indian whisky brands themselves is on the rise, both on a global and domestic scale. According to The Millionaires’ Club 2014, a listing of the top selling whisky brands by case, Officer’s Choice, an Indian brand, has taken the top spot as biggest selling whisky. This is largely due to its growing popularity within India, again showing how India’s whisky market is massively influential on overall brand sales.
This listing also shows that the vast majority of the top 10 biggest selling whiskies were in fact Indian brands, expressing just how popular the products of this country have become. This is not the first year Johnnie Walker has been knocked off the top by an Indian brand either. Last year McDowell’s No. 1 was the biggest selling whisky, and don’t be fooled by the name, this is very much an Indian whisky.
Not only are McDowell’s No.1 and Officer’s Choice, amongst many other Indian whiskies, taking over the market, but their owners, United Spirits and Allied Blenders and Distillers, both based in India, are increasing in power as well.
Back in 2015, pre-hostilities with their founder that I won’t go into now, whisky giant Diageo sought to acquire another 26% of shares in United Spirits, perhaps India’s biggest alcohol and beverage based company. At the time this would have added to the almost 29% majority share that the company already owns of United Spirits. They offered up to £1.1 billion for the shares, an number that was deemed reasonable by an independent committee of United Spirits directors.
If Diageo’s desperation to own a bigger stake in United Spirits tells us anything, it is the power and popularity of Indian whisky both in India and globally. Diageo is a powerful international company itself and owns many well-known and liked whisky brands, including Johnnie Walker.
The company’s attempts to acquire more control in Indian firms such as United Spirits would give Diageo easier access to the Indian whisky market, allowing them more freedom to introduce their own brands as well as to hold influence over already well established Indian brands. Since the growing majority of the world’s whisky is consumed in India it only makes that a company such as Diageo would seek to hold influence there.
The Indian whisky market is the biggest in the world, yet the Scotch Whisky Association notes that only 1% of that market is held by Scotch. The assertion that Scotch is the global consumers’ whisky of choice is fast diminishing. With the rise of brands such as Officer’s Choice and McDowell’s No.1 amongst many others, the popularity of Scotch is very much on the rocks.