Initial reports indicate that though struggling with tough economic times, the United States—the biggest export market for Scotch whisky—is still a steady customer, and there is what Evans terms as "enormous growth" in Asia.
With this success, it's no wonder everybody wants a wee bite of the big Scottish pie. Counterfeiting is rampant and maintaining the brand image of Scotch is as important as ever.
"We have five lawyers who would sue anybody, anywhere," says the grinning but not really joking Scot. "We have 60 to 70 court cases going on at any one time around the world."
Describe your job:
I’m in charge of the PR and media relations for the Scotch Whisky Association. We protect the interests of the Scotch whisky industry around the world.
Scotch whisky can only be made in Scotland, but is drunk in 200 countries—it makes us take a global perspective and one of our priorities is to protect Scotch's good name.
How big a deal is counterfeiting?
Companies love to dress up their product with our name. The nature of counterfeiting makes it difficult to determine how much is out there, but in 2006, we clamped down on 100 million bottles. We've seen "Highland Blend Whisky" coming out of China and similar stuff from Holland. We also found bottles trying to be smuggled from France to the UK and as a result, found an operation that had made somewhere on the order of two million bottles of product over an eighteen-month to two-year period.
We even found a canned product [Evans cringes when he gives this example] claiming to be Scotch whisky. We tracked the supply chain through Turkey and back to Austria and uncovered sixty million cans. So from one can, we found sixty million.
There was even a guy in India who named his "Highland Terrier" and tried to convince the judge that it was because he loved dogs so much.
How long do the cases take to resolve?
It depends where you are in the world and how interested the local authorities are. In many cases, there will be a lot of help—we've even been involved in raids with the South African Scorpions (a SWAT team-like special operations branch of the South African government).
Surprisingly, we even get lots of support in China, yet in India, some cases can take twenty-five years.
At that pace, why bother?
If someone tastes a knockoff and doesn't like it, we've lost a potential long-term sale.
What's the external perception of Scotch whisky? Which brand(s) best fits into this and why? How has it changed over time?
The perception of Scotch varies from country to country. In new markets like southern Europe and in Asia, Scotch is seen as a fashionable drink to have along with water, cola, soda and other mixers. In its more longstanding markets, such as the US and UK, Scotch had come to be seen as a drink for middle-aged males, but that's changing. With the growth of single malt (the product of one distillery) in particular, a younger consumer is exploring Scotch whisky and more women are choosing Scotch, both blended (the product of many distilleries) and single malt.
While maintaining a bit of a boy's club image, the industry is also pushing toward this younger (late 20s to 30s) market and trying to attract more women—how do you attract new consumers without alienating the existing ones?
Different markets view Scotch in different ways. There's a big difference between single malt enjoyed with a little water and those who like to add a bit of cola to their blend… Lighter Lowland and Speyside malts offer an easy introduction for first-time malt drinkers, but many like to dive straight in to the robust, smoky flavor of Islay whiskies.
The industry went through some tough times in the 1970s and 80s, and as a result, there was a wave of industry consolidation and many distilleries were mothballed. Could you explain the branding problems faced in that period and how the industry and brand recovered?
From the 1950s to the early 1970s, there was strong international growth for Scotch whisky. Difficult global economic conditions due to the 1970s oil crisis led to a slowdown in volume demand. This was followed in the 1980s by a short-lived fashion that avoided red meat and brown spirits. The benefit for consumers was that companies were able to focus on single malt Scotch whisky in the late 1980s, creating in the following 20 years a new market and interest in Scotch, resulting in record sales of Scotch in 2007.
Why is the high end of the industry doing so well and what are the regional differences we see in that sector around the globe?
There has been a growth in interest in premium spirits in the US, especially a drink like Scotch that offers the consumer flavor, character and integrity with a strong link to the place of the drink's creation. In Asia, new economic wealth, plus improved economic prospects in South America have driven growth in Scotch sales. The opening up of eastern European and Russian markets has also benefited Scotch, although there is still a long way to go—different drivers, but all resulting in growth.
How will Scotch whisky branding evolve in the next 10 to 20 years?
The economic growth in many Asian countries, increasing interest in single malt Scotch whisky and a growth in premium blended Scotch in more traditional markets indicate that there will be growth in many parts of the world for Scotch in the next decade and beyond. As a result, we might see further consumer interest in the flavors and aromas that can be found in different Scotch whiskies and a return to an appreciation of the differing characteristics to be found in blended Scotch whisky. The growing interest in Scotch has led to investment in distilling and warehousing in excess of US$ 800 million being announced in 2007.
How will the industry simultaneously ramp up production and maintain a strong brand reputation?
Scotch remains closely linked to Scotland and to individual distilleries. This sense of place, or the craft of the blender, means that the individual character of each whisky comes through as a personal experience for every drinker.
What's a brand you like and why?
Plymouth Gin. There's a hint of sweetness, but I find it has a full, fruity flavor which mixes well with tonic, the ice and a slice of lime—the combination works perfectly.
… but that sounds more like a way you like to unwind, not your favorite brand.
They've changed their packaging, but the taste is the thing I go for, not the packaging. If you want to have a sustainable enjoyment, it's the flavor, character and taste. Not the packaging. Not for me. It might be attractive first off, but it's what's in the bottle that's got to deliver.