Developed by scientists at Diageo's Brand Technical Centre in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire for an investment of £100,000, the kit deploys ultra-violet technology to test the authenticity of Diageo's Scotch whisky brands. Diageo hopes that the authenticator will ultimately be used across the whole industry, addressing a global issue.
Currently, the industry standard for verification of Scotch whisky is through laboratory-based analysis - a process which can take up to two weeks. The Diageo authenticator has been designed to work in the field and cuts the screening process down to less than one minute. This brings obvious cost savings but more importantly means that action against the counterfeiters can be swift.
Counterfeiting of whisky can take several forms, from fake packaging to refilling popular brands with cheaper and inferior product. The nature of the fraud means that it is difficult to put a figure on the global scale of the problem, as the scale fluctuates in different markets at different times, but the International Federation of Spirits Producers (IFSP), whose member companies are Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Brown Forman, Remy Cointreau, Bacardi-Martini and Allied Domecq, estimates the global losses for all spirits of between $500 to $700 million per annum.
So fruad is a global problem for the Scotch whisky industry, and one on which the industry regulator has invested a great deal of time. The Scotch Whisky Association's legal department, in conjunction with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, analyses and prosecutes companies and individuals seeking to pass off counterfeit products as Scotch whisky, and the authenticator kit should be an extremely useful tool to help then crack down on problems as they appear.The authenticators have successfully undergone a series of trials in Colombia, Spain and Venezuela and with final modifications the technology is ready to be rolled out to Diageo companies around the world, the group announced last week. Diageo plans to make the technology available to trading standards authorities and other Scotch whisky companies.
The authenticator is a joint venture between Diageo, Spectroscopic and Analytical Developments, and has been in development for more than a year. Unlike white spirits, where indicators can be used to determine authenticity, legislation prohibits the use of any indicators for Scotch whisky. Diageo claims that its innovation is therefore highly significant for the entire industry and should act as a powerful deterrent to those engaged in the production, supply or sale of counterfeit Scotch whisky.
Allan Burns, joint executive director of Diageo Scotland, said: "This is a very significant development for the industry and I am delighted that Diageo Scotland is at the forefront of such technical innovation. Counterfeiting is a worldwide problem for premium brands across many industries. Protecting our consumers and ensuring that they continue to enjoy the taste and quality of genuine Scotch whisky is essential to the future of the industry.
"When consumers think they are buying reputable brands but are in fact buying counterfeit copies, damage occurs not just to the reputation of the industry, but counterfeit product can also pose potentially significant consumer health risks. The authenticator means that detection can now be swift, efficient and highly cost effective, providing a powerful deterrent to the Scotch whisky counterfeiters."
The authenticator has also won the approval of the Scotch Whisky Association. Gavin Hewitt, SWA chief executive, said: "Scotch whisky has developed a global reputation as a drink of quality. Its international success means that others seek from time to time to trade illegally on that reputation. This device provides a new weapon to complement the existing work undertaken by the industry to defeat counterfeiters, and will give consumers even more confidence that the industry is doing all it can to ensure the quality of Scotch whisky is maintained."
Diageo is a leading player in the Scotch whisky industry. It operates 27 malt distilleries, two grain distilleries and owns a half share in a third grain distillery. As well as engineering and technical support functions there are extensive warehousing operations which store up to 8 million casks of Scotch whisky. Its Scotch brands include Johnnie Walker, Bells, Laphroaig and Lagavulin.