IT is easy to understand why Taiwan has for so long been such a desirable market for Scotch whisky distillers.
Recent years have seen a global boom in demand for single malt Scotch. However, consumers in Taiwan, or the Republic of China as it is known officially in its home territory, have favoured this premium market segment for a very long time. And, when you speak to many executives of Scotch whisky distillers, it is clear they have a passion for Taiwan that often dates back decades.
The new millennium has seen the Taiwanese move into developing their own single malts.
A reception last week to celebrate the 106th National Day of the Republic of China, hosted by the director-general of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK’s Edinburgh office, Jason Lien, at the Signet Library in Edinburgh, featured a selection of Taiwanese single malts.
There were the Kavalan King Car and Podium single malts. And two versions of the Omar single malt from Nantou distillery, situated in the mountains of Taiwan.
Nantou, slightly the later of the two to begin producing whisky with a 2008 start date, is state-owned. Kavalan, which notes on its Website that its first new-make spirit “left the spout in the spirit safe at exactly 15:30” on March 11, 2006, is family-owned and part of the King Car conglomerate. It is located in Yilan county in north-eastern Taiwan.
Whisky expert and author Charles MacLean observed Taiwan’s climate enabled rapid maturation of very good whisky.
Tasting the Kavalan and Nantou offerings suggests this is the case.
It is fascinating to see the Taiwanese follow the Japanese in producing fine single malt whisky.
Some years ago during a visit to Japan, whisky industry veteran Mike Miyamoto of Suntory highlighted the degree to which the Yamazaki distillery had learned from the Scotch whisky industry as he gave a guided tour of the site, located between Kyoto and Osaka.
Yamazaki’s owner, Suntory, had by then owned Morrison Bowmore for many years.
The Scotch Whisky Association says acknowledgement from Taiwan about what its distillers have learned from Scotch is flattering.
It is notable the Taiwanese offering is already the second-largest seller in the overall whisky (including whiskey) category in its home territory, with a six per cent market share by volume.
Scotch’s continuing dominance of the Taiwanese whisky market is underlined by its 86 per cent share by volume, according to figures from the International Wine and Spirits Record (IWSR) cited by the SWA. Scotch’s global market share is put at 22 per cent.
Taiwan is a place rich in culture, featuring hot springs baths dating back to the Japanese era, incense-filled temples, and a raft of treasures transported from mainland China in the late 1940s, as well as the ultra-modern landmark of the Taipei 101 skyscraper known internationally for its televised New Year fireworks. Quality and provenance count.
And, in this technology-heavy economy that includes the likes of computer giants Asus and Acer and AU Optronics, luxury brands do well.
Taiwan is a market viewed by many as straightforward and easy to navigate. It is one of the biggest export markets for Cheeky Chompers, the Scottish babywear and accessories company. The firm’s founders, Julie Wilson and Amy Livingstone, have enjoyed great success in Taiwan, boosted by endorsements from celebrities in this market.
Ms Wilson notes designs sell out fast when celebrities’ babies are pictured wearing them.
She also highlights the advantage the Scottish company has, given it does not offshore its manufacturing, in being able to sell a British-made message in the Taiwan market. Success in Taiwan has helped the firm push into mainland China.
Taiwan was the fourth-largest market for Scotch whisky by value in the world last year. For single-malt Scotch, it was the third-largest market globally in 2016. Exports of Scotch to Taiwan dipped last year to £175 million, from £182m in 2015, but are well up from £106.5m in 2006, ahead of the global financial crash. In the first half of this year, Scotch exports to Taiwan were £70.6m, of which single malts comprised £40.1m, down on the overall £74.7m value for the same period of 2016. This made Taiwan the fifth-largest market for Scotch by value, although it was still third-biggest for single malt Scotch.
The SWA attributes the recent dip in exports to this key market not to the advent of Taiwanese whisky but to economic factors, such as more sluggish growth in recent years, pressure on wages in the face of competition from mainland China, and the impact of higher property prices on incomes.
However, the Scotch whisky sector loves Taiwan because it is an educated market, with lots of whisky connoisseurs interested in premium products.
The SWA thus declares a view that the rise of Taiwanese single malt is a good thing, in terms of benefiting the overall category. This seems fair enough. The fact Scotch and Taiwanese single malts have a fair deal in common can hopefully be good for both in Taiwan, as consumers develop further their expertise. Both have plenty of competition in terms of whiskies from other countries, as well as all of the other spirits categories.
And Scotch remains in high demand among people in Taiwan when it comes to giving gifts.
The SWA, for good reason, continues to see great long-term potential for Scotch in Taiwan.
Walking through Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport nearly a week after the National Day reception in Edinburgh provides some further anecdotal reasons to be cheerful on this front.
Scotch whisky, mainly single malt with some premium blends, continues to dominate the illuminated displays at the airport’s Travel Retail Exclusive outlet. The Scotch is interspersed with Hennessy and Martell Cognac displays.
There is some advertising for Nantou’s Omar at the airport.
But it is clear on arrival that the names of the likes of The Glenlivet, The Macallan, Glenmorangie, Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker, and Bowmore are still very much up there in lights in Taiwan.
Source : HeraldScotland