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Whisky sales boost UK drinks exports past £9.4bn

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Whisky sales helped boost UK drink exports by 13% last year. Image: Getty, Joe McRyan
Whisky sales helped boost UK drink exports by 13% last year. Image: Getty, Joe McRyan

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Whisky has played a key role in boosting drinks exports, as overseas sales jump 13% to £9.4bn in the past year.

Spirits played a key role in rising drinks exports in the year ended 31 July 2023, according to charted accountant and business advisor Hazlewoods.

Continued demand for Scotch whisky from traditional markets in EU countries – including France, Germany, Spain and Poland – helped drinks exports to the single market reach close to £1.6bn.

However, sales of more perishable, lower margin drinks to the EU such as beer have suffered due to Brexit related red tape.

UK drinks exports

Value of drinks exports in 2021/22: £8.3bn

Value of drinks exports in 2022/23: £9.4bn

Heritage brands

Rebecca Copping, associate partner at Hazlewoods, said: “British heritage brands have successfully placed themselves as a luxury in the international drinks market. A large chunk of this success is due to young, wealthy consumers purchasing quality drinks brands that signify status and success.”

Outside of the EU, the US remained the biggest export market for Scotch by value, with sales clocking in at more than £1bn in 2022. Exports to nations such as India and Singapore have also increased sharply in the last year.

India in particular became the Scotch whisky industry’s largest global market by volume, thanks to wealthier a growth in Indian consumers attracted to the spirit’s premium image.

“Despite volatility in the economy and high interest rates around much of the globe, consumer spend on luxury goods has held up well, although sales growth of luxury goods is slowing,”​ Copping added. “This post-COVID boom in luxury goods sales certainly had a hand in increasing UK drinks exports.”

Single biggest export

Whisky is the UK’s single biggest food and drink export by value, with the Scotch Whisky Association aiming to add another £1bn of exports over the next five years.

Export growth will depend heavily on a UK-India free trade agreement that addresses key impediment like the 150% tariff on imports of Scotch whisky into India, making it markedly more expensive than Indian whiskies.

“Now the industry is focused on long term growth, reaching bigger, untapped markets,”​ Copping concluded. “The UK Government can support that by delivering trade agreements that lower barriers to expansion.”

“While whisky is playing a huge role in the export increase, this is also a success story for UK drinks brands that focus on gin and other spirits. It’s the heritage image and luxury branding that draws in a lot of consumers, especially those in growing markets like India and Singapore.”

Meanwhile, producers of Welsh lamb are soon to benefit from a new deal landed by Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) to supply meat to the Japanese food service industry.

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