Scotch Malt Whisky Society cheers record year as China and US outperform

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has raised a glass to another record year with strong growth in the US despite the imposition of trade tariffs.

Stock acquired for future bottlings, staff recruitment, investment in e-commerce and member propositions that included the opening of a new venue in Glasgow and improvements to the Queen Street Edinburgh premises, all contributed to increased spend at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Picture: Daniel McAvoy
Stock acquired for future bottlings, staff recruitment, investment in e-commerce and member propositions that included the opening of a new venue in Glasgow and improvements to the Queen Street Edinburgh premises, all contributed to increased spend at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Picture: Daniel McAvoy

Accounts for the Artisanal Spirits Company (ASC), the Edinburgh-based holding company for the whisky club, show that turnover rose by 22 per cent to £14.8 million during 2019.

Global membership increased by 12 per cent to more than 27,000. Gross profit was up 19 per cent to £8.7m with gross margin holding steady at 59 per cent – in line with expectations.

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Whisky stocks increased by £4.1m to £21m last year, the latest accounts also reveal.

Bosses said the 2019 performance had been driven by particularly strong trading in China and the US, despite the latter’s tariffs imposed on single malt Scotch whisky in the fourth quarter of the year. In China alone, sales rose by more than 60 per cent to £2.3m.

They noted that the positive trend in those markets was continuing in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The figures come on the back of major investments made during 2018, which were replicated in 2019.

Stock acquired for future bottlings, staff recruitment, investment in e-commerce and member propositions that included the opening of a new venue in Glasgow and improvements to the Queen Street Edinburgh premises, all contributed to increased spend. Even after these major investments, underlying profits (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) grew to £300,000.

David Ridley, managing director of the Artisanal Spirits Company, said: “Our policy of investing for future growth has not only seen us achieve impressive growth figures for 2019, but we’ve also continued to grow through 2020 as enjoyment of premium Scotch whisky at home has risen during the global pandemic.

“The long-term, loyal nature of our customer base and pivoting to online events that bring members together for tasting experiences has ensured high engagement levels throughout this year.

“While our members’ rooms opening hours have been interrupted through lockdown restrictions, venue staff have remained in place under the government’s Job Retention Scheme initiative. Plans are in place to ensure venues will be fully operational once restrictions allow.”

SMWS’s Australian business has moved from a franchise model to become a 100 per cent owned subsidiary.

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