Chivas Brothers’ James Maxwell hopes to capitalise on Southeast Asia’s burgeoning love affair with Scotch whisky
By Rebecca Foster
When it comes to whisky, it’s age – not size – that matters, says James Maxwell. As Asia’s regional director for Chivas Brothers, a global leader in premium Scotch, he knows better than most that Asians are attracted to such luxury.
“I think the Asian consumer is aspirational; they respect the craftsmanship and heritage that goes into making a Scotch whisky,” said Maxwell, who joined Chivas Brothers – a subsidiary of French drinks giant Pernod Ricard, the world’s second-largest distiller of Scotch whisky – in 2001, when Pernod Ricard acquired Canada’s Seagram.
This appreciation for tradition is driving Chivas Brothers’ sales of premium whisky.
“If you go back to the UK or Europe, you don’t see a huge amount of prestige sales… 17-30-year-old whiskies don’t really resonate in Europe and America,” said Maxwell. “But the Asian consumer demands those higher-aged whiskies.”
To reflect this trend, last year Chivas Brothers launched Glenlivet Excellence, a 12-year-old product exclusive to Asia. “It’s a little bit softer and a bit lighter in character and flavour,” said Maxwell, explaining how it is tailored to an Asian palate.
Asia’s taste for the tipple has buoyed sluggish sales in Europe, where a tax hike in Pernod Ricard’s home market, France, hit the company’s figures last year. Yet with the introduction of austerity measures slowing consumption in Chivas Brothers’ biggest market, China, Maxwell is training his eyes on Asia’s emerging whisky markets.
Positioning itself to gain from the expansion of Southeast Asia’s middle class, which is increasingly seeking luxury, Chivas Brothers has prioritised the development of its whisky portfolio in the region.
With rising disposable incomes, consumers in the region are lapping up big brands as prestigious symbols of their wealth and status in the quest to upgrade or enhance their lifestyles.
“We have seen some dynamic growth in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, as we enter into those new territories,” said Maxwell.
Of the region’s emerging markets, Vietnam proved to be the golden child of 2012, with blended Scotch whiskies Chivas Regal and Ballantine enjoying rapid growth in the country.
“Vietnam has been a fantastic success for us, particularly with the ultra-premium categories such as Chivas Regal 18-year-old, for which Vietnam is the global leader,” he said.
The growing popularity of more sophisticated and expensive brands is reflected in Cambodia, where Chivas Brothers recorded 60% volume and sales growth in its first year.
“In emerging markets where the brand is not well established, it’s about getting drinks in people’s hands, so they can sample the product,” said Maxwell.
Getting Scotch in the hands of women is next on Maxwell’s agenda. “Innovation is key. The female consumer is very important for us moving forward,” added Maxwell. “A lot more women are starting to experiment with whisky.”
This experimentation will prove vital to Chivas Brothers’ bid to appeal to a wider audience. “We have a global mixologist who travels around the world creating cocktails at various events,” said Maxwell. “It is giving people that wouldn’t normally drink Scotch a different perspective.”
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