Blended Scotch is worth £814 million to the off-trade, while malt whisky sales stand at £168 million (Nielsen, year to February 1).
But Chris Shead, off-trade spirits director at Pernod Ricard, believes retailers are focusing far more effort on the smaller category.
He told OLN: “Blended is more than four times the size of single malt. Malt has always been seen as the crown jewel of whisky and rightly so in many respects. But there’s fantastic quality in blended and the UK consumer has been a bit blinded to that.
“In grocery retail the default behaviour is to emphasise malt whisky then imported, and blended is left on the side. But there’s a bigger play to be made around whisky. It’s broad and multidimensional.”
Pernod Ricard supplies Chivas and The Glenlivet so it has a stake in each category, and it believes many consumers will “cross-shop” between them. It urged retailers to take three steps to make the most of blended Scotch: drive shopper engagement, make the most of technology and educate staff. It has also produced a booklet of retail advice.
Shead praised specialists such as The Whisky Shop and said other retailers can learn best practice from them.
He added: “Premium blended whisky is much loved by shoppers but in a retail environment it’s lagging behind and we need to work on that. There is an opportunity for suppliers and retailers to collaborate.
“You can get some excitement around the category – inline plinths, showcases, a whisky of the month – simple things that highlight the category and drive shopper engagement.
“You see that in the grocers but it’s completely applicable to smaller stores that can put the whisky on show and talk about the product.
“In the average supermarket you tend to see a wall of products, a piece of wood will go across malt whisky and there will be more signage and premium cues.
“At a superficial level you have something marked out as more special. That’s a great thing for malt, but you should be showcasing the whole category.”
Blended whisky is popular among older drinkers, while younger drinkers are far more likely to drink imported whisky, but Shead says the tide is turning.
“It’s fashionable at the moment – it’s an interesting product to younger drinkers,” he said. “Chivas has 35% more drinkers in the 24-44 age group than blended whisky as a whole. “Younger people are getting more enthused by premium blended whisky – it’s interesting, it has character, you can drink it mixed but you can also sip it.
“It’s not just us looking to this category. There’s a huge investment from Diageo in Johnnie Walker. We are investing in Chivas and our performance is fantastic.
“If you have a number of suppliers looking at this market and investing in it there’s something worth investing in.”