Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

SOUTH Africa and the rest of the continent have been "big contributors" to the growth in demand for Scotch whisky, according to Nicholas Morgan, head of whisky outreach at Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company and producer of Johnnie Walker.

South Africa is among the top 10 importers of Scotch whisky, thanks to rising incomes, which have contributed to the Scotch whisky culture, and its historical links to Scotland.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, the country — the seventh-largest importer by value in the world for the first six months of last year — has been "one of the leading lights" of the industry.

Mr Morgan said the strong local whisky culture was also a "reflection of the success of South Africa’s economy over the past 10 years".

About 18-million cases of Johnnie Walker were sold globally last year, making it the number-one premium spirit by value. It has become a popular choice among the aspiring middle class and is often seen as a symbol of success. It is also the fastest-growing spirit in South Africa, outpacing cider and beer.

Mr Morgan visited South Africa last week to promote the newly launched Johnnie Walker Platinum Label and Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve.

Brandhouse — a joint venture between Heineken, London-listed Diageo and Namibian Breweries — recently launched the Platinum Label, which is positioned above the premium Black Label, in South Africa. The first bottle was bought through a bidding process for R76,000.

Black Label remains the "key marketing platform" for Johnnie Walker in South Africa, Mr Morgan said.

The 18-year-old Platinum Label blend is regarded as Johnnie Walker’s most precious, private blend, while the Gold Label Reserve is known as the "celebratory blend", characterised by aromatic and rich flavours.

Diageo’s smaller rival Pernod Ricard, which owns brands including Chivas Regal whisky, in May this year outlined a £40m investment programme intended to meet growing demand for whisky in emerging markets.

Last month, Pernod Ricard CEO Pierre Pringuet said the company hoped for double-digit growth in the medium term in Africa. "It is off a low-base, however. There is huge potential in Africa and an enormous amount of wealth," he said.

Matching the growth of the Scotch whisky industry, South Africa’s own whisky brands seem to be poised for growth.

Marcel Swain, brand manager of Three Ships and Bain’s Whisky (products of South African company Distell), said the Three Ships brand was performing "exceptionally well" after collecting international accolades at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

Three Ships Premium Select five-year-old was named the world’s best blended whisky of 2012 at the annual Whisky Magazine World Whisky Awards.

South Africa’s first single-grain whisky, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, was launched in 2009 and has since won three gold awards at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

"The brand has taken a new turn with more focus being placed on the brand with a new through-the-line campaign to be launched in the new year — exciting times," Mr Swain said.