Making whisky cool for a new generation

It’s been an eventful year for Whyte Mackay with it taking back responsibility for distribution for its two biggest brands and being acquired by the world’s second largest spirits company, United Breweries.

Simon Oldham, who has just been promoted to managing director, says the decision to take back distribution of its Whyte Mackay and Vladivar brands has lead to strong growth. This is not because the former distributor Maxxium was not doing a good job, but because of the extra exposure it has provided for some of its other important brands such as its single malt whiskey Jura and its Scotch whisky liqueur Glayva.

He says: “When we took over we had to upscale our sales team and it meant we had people talking about Glayva and Jura for the first time. It was all white space for us and we have won a lot of new distribution.” Between March and October Oldham says Whyte and Mackay had added 10,000 new sales points in the on trade.

Another factor that has helped sales was an initative taken in 2006 to avoid stock getting into the wrong hands. Oldham says the company decided that it would only sell duty paid and would closely monitor sales activity for suspicious orders such as a customer who usually only ordered by the case suddenly trying to buy trunkers. This meant temporary pain in 2006 with a slowdown in sales, but Oldham says the trade has now recognised what Whyte Mackay was trying to do and has rewarded its stance.

While Whyte Mackay blended whisky is a big brand north of the border, and is in a very tight battle for the number one spot, it has a much lower profile in England and Wales. Oldham says: “Our strategy for growth has been to attract new younger adult drinkers to the Scotch whisky category rather than just trying to grab share from other whiskies.”

As part of this strategy the company repackaged Whyte Mackay, giving it a more contemporary look and has seen the number of 18-30 year olds buying it increase by more than 50%. Oldham says: “The UK seems to be the only place in the world where it is not cool to drink whisky. We’ve got to make it an aspirational drink and inject growth into blended whisky.”

To raise the brand’s profile with its target audience, Whyte Mackay has agreed a deal to sponsor Premier League Darts. Oldham says the game of darts has been totally reinvented, attracting a younger, fun seeking audience to fill 5,000-seat arenas, fitting perfectly with the brand, and giving it its first nationwide TV exposure.

Vodka is the leading spirits category in the UK, but is also a highly competitive one. Oldham says Vladivar has a positioning of affordability and is quirky in a stylish way, but while the positioning is right, the way it has been executed has been too polarising. He says there will be a re-launch next year with new packaging and an image that is more inclusive.

Oldham says the wholesale channel is massively important for the business and the fact that it has increased its sales team to the cash and carry sector from one person to six is just one indication of its commitment. The company has also invested in differentiated products for wholesalers’ customers. He says a Jura hip flask, which was offered through cash and carries in the run-up to Father’s Day, proved successful and the offer will be run again at Christmas. Also, the company has produced priced-marked packs for the independents with 70cl Whyte Mackay and Vladivar both priced at pound;9.99.

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