Scotch whisky’s unsung heroes

6th August, 2012 by Richard Woodard

They may not be the most famous, but brands such as Buchanan’s, Passport and Label 5 play a crucial role in Scotch’s global development.

Buchanan's Scotch whisky

Scotch whisky brands like Buchanan’s are little known outside their target markets but driving growth figures for the category

Anybody care to take a guess at the name of the fastest-growing blended Scotch in North America? It’s not Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, J&B or Ballantine’s… step forward Buchanan’s, the Diageo brand that hit 1.6m cases last year and has been a huge success story with Latin American and emigrant Hispanic consumers in the past decade.

You’re probably even less likely to guess the brand claiming to have been the second fastest-growing Scotch in the past five years: Label 5, owned by La Martiniquaise, is now spreading its wings beyond its French heartland to target markets from Venezuela to Russia.

The success story that is the global Scotch industry tends to focus on star names, with Johnnie Walker and Chivas at the forefront, and Ballantine’s, Grant’s, J&B and Dewar’s among the supporting cast.

But “portfolio brands”, as Diageo describes the likes of Old Parr, Windsor and White Horse, are far more than bit-part players; they play a vital role in opening up developing markets that are just beginning to fall in love with Scotch.

Sights set high

Let’s deal with Label 5 first, since it is in many ways the odd brand out in this company. While the others have to play second fiddle to the higher priorities of their owners, Label 5 is the flagship brand of La Martiniquaise, topping 2.5m cases in 2011 and growing sales by 50% in five years.

That success is due in no small part to a mainstream positioning in the huge blended Scotch market of France, where it has a 14% market share, but also to a fast-expanding presence elsewhere, including sales of roughly 150,000 cases in Mexico.

The company also has high hopes for range extension Label 5 Extra Premium 12-year-old, packaged in “traditional but contemporary” style and supported by point-of-sale material, off-premise promotions and tasting sessions, among other marketing initiatives.

And where from here? La Martiniquaise has its sights set on becoming the world’s fifth best-selling Scotch brand in the next decade. If other lesser-known Scotches don’t quite share Label 5’s star billing, that doesn’t diminish their significance to their parent companies.

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