Wine trade needs a bolder stance

on 09 September, 2013

Time to raise a dram to the Scotch Whisky Association for its inventive approach to creating concise statistics that strike decisively to the heart of the issues currently at play.

In a bid to demonstrate the considerable contribution the industry makes to the country’s wealth and economic foundations, it claims that whisky exports add £135 to Britain’s coffers every second. In a world dominated by headline-grabbing spin based on data that’s been more massaged than a sportsman’s knee, it’s a reminder that the best statistics are simple ones derived from clear logic.

The government is rightly keen to highlight industries bucking the trend and help lead the UK out of recession. This week’s papers were awash with reports by the manufacturing sector that we are experiencing an unprecedented boom marked by expansion and sustained growth.

By honing in on its considerable export success, which few industries can match, the whisky trade has done a great job of highlighting the value it represents as a major source of jobs and revenue.

The on-trade has been similarly bold, forcing politicians to modify thinking by presenting black and white figures that are impossible to argue with. For its part, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association looks like it’s ready to start making a more concerted effort to challenge mainstream stereotypes about the industry that is far too often construed as a cosy clique where people are just having a jolly old time.

The trade’s recent history has shown that bleating about how hard we have it when households are struggling isn’t going to go anywhere meaningful. But tangible evidence outlining what the industry brings to the table and, in turn, how state taxes could jeopardise that input are what resonate. We must engineer an environment where the debate swings away from inherent suspicion that suppliers and retailers just want to sell more products and create a society of serial bingers.

The WSTA’s agenda of becoming fastidiously analytical and alert to tracking data is commendable, and I’m sure most people employed within the trade now have greater access to insight than ever before. But somehow those figures don’t make it out to a wider audience in a way that creates meaningful understanding.

Later this month, the industry will come together to look at the big issues impacting it at the WSTA’s conference. It’s an opportunity for a real hard look at how the industry can better position itself. And with so many big hitters from the media attending, including the Telegraph’s former boss, there couldn’t be more qualified people to steer the trade’s next steps. Let’s hope it’s an opportunity grasped with both hands.

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