Talking Scotch in China

04 Dec 2017

Talking Scotch in the world's biggest spirits market

Clearly Scotch Whisky is a fabulous product appreciated in countries across the globe. Scotch is the UK's biggest food and drink export, topping £4 billion in 2016 to more than 180 markets. Our quality is recognised, and provenance guaranteed, as our industry follows a protected traditional process to make whisky to strict standards in Scotland.

So I was proud to represent the industry in receiving an award from the Chinese Alcoholic Drinks Association (CADA) for Scotch and highlighting Scotland's place in the history books as one of the world's top 10 spirits producing areas. It gave me the opportunity to talk about the work the industry does, the people whose skills are key to our success, the heritage of our product and the opportunities to visit the sites across Scotland where whisky is made.

What may surprise anyone who is not familiar with the Chinese market is what makes up the rest of the top 10 regions in CADA's list. Six of the places were production regions for the locally produced spirit Baijiu. Rarely exported, but part of traditional Chinese dinner culture, more than 14 billion bottles of Baijiu were sold/ drunk/produced in 2016. This makes it the biggest spirit in the biggest spirits market in the world.

So Scotch plays a relatively small role in the Chinese spirits market, but I detected a sense of optimism about growing understanding and confidence among Chinese consumers in Scotch Whisky. In particular, there seemed to be a link between the heritage, longevity and "family" nature of Scotch production and the values Chinese people hold dear. This is also born out by recent export statistics which show an increase in the value of direct exports to China in the first half of 2017.

There was also an obvious thirst for knowledge about what Scotch is and where it comes from. As China grows economically there is a greater interest in products from elsewhere in the world and the story that Scotch can tell about its history and development captures the imagination. So I found myself, with the support of the British government, Chamber of Commerce and our member companies, explaining to hundreds of people why I think Scotland's national drink is so great.

The Chinese government is also keen to stimulate economic growth and the recently announced cut in import tariffs on whisky should support a boost in more Chinese people making that connection with Scotch. Happily it seems like the UK-China golden era will continue to run for some time yet.

Sarah Dickson, SWA director of global affairs