Whisky firm eyes on-trade expansion

Family-owned Ian Macleod Distillers focused on growing portfolio in pubs and bars

• Casks aplenty: Glengoyne distillery manager Robbie Hughes
• Casks aplenty: Glengoyne distillery manager Robbie Hughes

By Dave Hunter

THE on-trade will be a key focus for independent whisky firm Ian Macleod Distillers over the next year, as it aims to expand the presence of its brands in bars, pubs and restaurants.

That was the message from the company’s commercial director, Neil Boyd, as he outlined the business’s plans for its whisky portfolio, which includes blended Scotch Isle of Skye and single malts Glengoyne and Tamdhu, in the coming months.
Recent marketing activity for the whiskies has included the launch of a new campaign for Isle of Skye that is built around the Scottish landscape and a sponsorship of Scottish Mountain Rescue.
An initial burst of trade advertising and a new website – both of which were launched last month – will be followed in the coming months by television advertising, a separate campaign promoting hillwalking and highlighting mountain safety, and PR activity focused on the on-trade.
“We have a number of activities planned: some awards, competitions, etc. related to the theme of the great outdoors,” Boyd told SLTN.
“We’ll be looking to support certain pubs, highlight certain pubs that support the great walking and climbing community of Scotland, and you’ll see more of that in the months ahead.”
As well as raising funds for Scottish Mountain Rescue (Ian Macleod has already donated £10,000 to the organisation, with 15p from every bottle of Isle of Skye going to the charity) the aim of the activity is to increase the brand’s footprint across Scotland, particularly in more remote areas.
“We think that, certainly in the rural areas where there’s a greater appreciation of the mountain rescue teams, that this sponsorship campaign will resonate with the local communities,” said Boyd.

Neil Boyd
Neil Boyd

Meanwhile, on the single malt side of the business, activity will include a focus on food for Glengoyne.
“We’ve been engaging ourselves with the foodie community,” said Boyd.
“We are regular attendees at events like the Taste Festival and the BBC Good Food Shows.
“We are looking to grow the brand in the restaurant sector as well as in the premium on-trade. We do that through a combination of tastings, talking to F&B managers, looking for opportunities to really highlight the flavour differences across our range.”
Tasting events will also be critical for Tamdhu.
Bought by Ian Macleod in 2011 and relaunched by the company earlier this year, Boyd said the whisky offers publicans “a rather interesting and iconic bottle shape that we hope will stand out well on the back-bar, along with the sherry-matured liquid”.
“It’s only been launched four months, it’s early days, but we’re very satisfied with the start it’s had,” said Boyd.
“We’ll be focusing on doing a lot of tasting activity and trying to gain visibility in the on-premise for the brand going forward.”
In addition to its own brands, Ian Macleod is also focused on growing distribution for the Spencerfield Spirits-owned whiskies Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose, as well as Spencerfield’s Edinburgh Gin. Ian Macleod took on the UK distribution of the brands earlier this year.
“I think they [the brands] have got legs in the on-premise, and I think as bars try to differentiate themselves from what you might call mainstream and from what you might find in the off-premise, and look for quirky brands with back-bar stand out, Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip fit into that,” said Boyd.
“They’ve been around for 30 or 40 years, they’re quite established in rural locations, less so in other locations, but we think there’s a good niche for them and we’re positive about having them in our portfolio.”
And the Christmas season, in particular, is considered a key period for the company, said Boyd.
“It’s no secret the on-trade has struggled recently with economic pressures,” he said. “But there’s a lot more on-trade activity at Christmas, and I still believe you build brands in the on-trade.
“I think it’s important to have your products as visible as you possibly can during that period.”