While we await to see what the new US administration will do with tariffs, Scotch whisky is counting the cost with export sales massively hit. So what does it mean for Berry Bros, which has a sizeable international clientele? And how has the company been coping with that ‘other thing’? Peter Dean caught up with BBR’s reserve spirits manager, Doug McIvor, on the eve of its Spirits Winter Release which includes a one-off Chinese New Year special to celebrate the Year of the Ox.
“With lockdown many consumers have been having fun making cocktails so gin will continue to be strong. NOLO seems to be emerging more and more so is an area to watch.”
As a business how have you been coping with the impact of Covid?
It has been challenging in many ways but we have been remarkably resilient in reorganising so that our staff and customers are safe. The wine and spirits trade is a very people-friendly business and that’s probably the hardest aspect for me, missing colleagues, suppliers and customers for face to face interaction.
How has the spirits business been sales-wise over the past 12 months?
Our trade has been strong domestically and internationally despite the many on trade closures and our brands have gone from strength to strength.
What changes have you seen to the nature of the market?
It seems that consumers are trading up in quality which suits our super premium products.
If there has been growth across particular categories – what have been the key drivers and why is that do you think?
We have had increases across our range. We repacked No.3 Gin which has been very successful and have introduced our seasonal releases to ensure greater diversity in products and price range with every one selling out before the next. Our Classics editions of blended malts have worked well with their pricing sweet spot below £40 in the UK.
US tariffs have made a massively negative impact on exports of Scotch whisky – has this affected BBR in any way?
Any tariff is bad news, and it has impacted although we have shifted focus to other markets to adjust.
How have the sales of Scotch blends been compared to single malts?
We are not focussed on standard blends, but the general trend has seen increases in malt’s share of the market which suits our business.
What spirits trends do you see happening over the next 12 months?
With lockdown many consumers have been having fun making cocktails so gin will continue to be strong. NOLO seems to be emerging more and more so is an area to watch.
Who are your core customers?
We have a good and balanced spread domestically and internationally. Our private client business is loyal and growing with some cross-over in wines and spirits. In the UK we supply a broad range of retailers and some strong supermarket and on-line businesses. Internationally we do well in Asia, but we have some star markets in Europe such as Germany and Belgium.
What are you doing to attract a new demographic and younger drinkers into the market?
Our marketing platforms have evolved to cater for younger age groups, and we are keen to increase our focus on this. Also diversifying our products to include whiskies and rums from the New World and other countries. Education is an essential tool so we are trying to ensure that we can tell the stories of the products in a rounded and insightful way.
What factors go into deciding which whiskies and rums will go into your Summer, Autumn or Winter Releases?
Sometimes it’s the weight of the spirit. Lighter styles in summer and heavier peaty styles in the winter but equally it’s about what we have maturing or stock we have acquired and trying not to repeat the same kind of product from one release to the next.
Tell us about the rationale of pricing the whiskies – these seem very affordable compared to some of the prices in the market.
We start with our Classics which are around £30 – £40 in the UK and are tremendous value considering the profile of stock used to make up the blends. We recently included Small Batches which are Single distillery malts in two or three cask runs and these are the link to our single cask range which runs from about £60 to £250. At the top end we have our Exceptional Cask series which includes our oldest and rarest.
What do you think the star release is in the collection?
I think there is something there for everyone, but I love the Glen Elgin PX finish.
Are your whisky and rum drinkers one and the same? If not, what are their particular characteristics?
There is some cross-over. The rum audience may have a slightly younger demographic, but both have large numbers who become interested in the subject as well as the products but ultimately, it’s down to personal preference.
You have a Chinese New Year Special Edition to celebrate the Year of the Ox. Is this just a cute bit of marketing or do you actually look for a spirit with Oz-like characteristics?
One of our Asian customers asked if we could do this and we also had strong interest from our retail business in London so it is fulfilling a consumer demand for collectable and limited edition bottlings. We do look, as best we can, to match overall flavour of spirit with the key characteristics of each year. They have performed well so far.
Did you release one for 2020 – Year of the Rat? And if so what was that like?
Yes, we put out a really classy Benriach 2008 at cask strength which was very fruity and honeyed in style.