Whisky consultant and broker Blair Bowman

Scottish drinks face restriction

25 January, 2023

As a result, Bowman is calling for people to push back and complete the consultation, which closes 9 March, as he highlights the direct effect it would have on businesses. “We have some amazing world-class cultural and arts events in Scotland that people come from all around the world to participate in.

“They rely heavily on drinks brands, because they don’t get enough support already from arts funding. So if that was now banned, I just don’t think that these businesses would survive.”

Specifically on the on-trade side of things, Bowman adds: “If it goes to the extreme level that they’re suggesting, it could be that no bottles are allowed to be visible whatsoever, almost like tobacco. Bottles would have to be hidden behind the counters or behind screens, which just wouldn’t really work in reality.”

The importance of Scotch

One of the key points in the report that has sparked anger in the whisky trade is the statement: “Without branding and other marketing strategies, alcohol products in each beverage subsector are essentially variations of the same thing.” Bowman dismisses this, commenting: “Every whisky is distinct and unique, and that’s what makes us special. Scotch whisky wouldn’t be the global success story that it is if it was all just the same thing.”

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, more than 11,000 people are directly employed in the Scotch whisky industry, and there are over 42,000 jobs across the UK supported by the industry. Seven thousand of these in rural areas of Scotland, providing vital employment and investment to communities across the Highlands and Islands. The Scotch industry is a crucial part of the economy. “If these distilleries weren’t where they are, there wouldn’t be jobs in these places, people would have to leave and go to the city. We need to keep these jobs in these beautiful parts of the world and protect the local economies there,” Bowman adds.

Not just whisky

The consultation, if passed, will pose challenges for gin, cider and other beverage alcohol producers throughout the country. “I think, if a worst case scenario does go ahead, Scotch whisky will be okay, because it’s exported and the majority of the sales are from exports. But that will ruin the local businesses that don’t actually have exports, that really just sell locally or to tourists, they just won’t be viable,” Bowman continues.

With the consultation being just that, a means of gathering opinions, Porteous says: “It’s important to be balanced in terms of thinking that this isn’t fact that these things are going to happen. But it’s concerning as a small business that this is the language being used, in terms of the restrictions that are being discussed.

“From my perspective, specifically as a small spirits producer, I think if what’s being discussed comes to pass, it will make it very, very difficult for small brands like mine to be competitive in the market, because we rely so heavily on our ability to tell consumers about our products.”

For larger producers comes a more diverse stream of income. For example, it would pose a challenge for Electric Spirits, which primarily sells domestically, with some exports it would pose a challenge as Porteous notes: “We’d be able to advertise in countries that allow it, but then we wouldn’t be able to talk about it in our own country, which is a bit strange.”

Despite the government’s ideas to regulate and clamp down on alcohol marketing, Porteous adds: “Everyone in the drinks industry is very aware of our responsibilities as producers, and we take them very seriously. Even small producers, it’s not like the Wild West.”

The industry already faces restrictions in the way it talks about products and has regulations. “We also have organisations like the Portman Group, and they’re very much in everyone’s mind whenever we do any kind of promotional activity. So I think a large amount of the industry is very savvy already when it comes to the way that we talk about our products,” says Porteous.

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