A taste for Scotch in Taiwan

18 Jun 2013

Taiwan is a great place to do business and is an important and growing market for Scotch Whisky. In fact, it is the largest export market by value for Scotch in Asia, totalling £165 million in customs value alone last year.

Despite being such a lucrative market for exports from the UK, Taiwan has a relatively low profile and slips under the radar of many sectors. The UK Government is trying to rectify this situation with Nick Baird, chief executive officer of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), recently leading a delegation to the annual Taiwan-Britain Business Council. I was delighted to take part in this trip and to meet the government of Taiwan to discuss a number of subjects, including the protection of Scotch Whisky.

Consumers in Taiwan are very sophisticated and over the years have developed a taste for Single Malt Scotch Whisky, which helps explain why it is such a high value market. Taiwan, a country of 23 million people, is the third biggest market by value for Single Malt worldwide.

Whenever I visit any country, one of the first things I do is pop in to one or two liquor stores to get a sense for the brands that are popular.  When I browsed the shelves at a store in Taipei, I was once again impressed by the sheer variety of Single Malts on sale.  Among the single cask bottlings and special editions were expressions that you will very rarely encounter even in Scotland.  People in Taiwan really know their Scotch.

Taiwan is a good market for Scotch Whisky distillers of all sizes, from the largest multinational to the smallest trader.  Consumers are always looking out for a brand that their friends may not have encountered, which gives smaller companies a great opportunity. 

As in many markets in Asia, a priority for us is to deal with misleadingly labelled products falsely claiming to be Scotch Whisky. This cheats consumers and devalues the public perception of Scotch Whisky.  The temptation is particularly great in a premium market where the economic incentives are significant.  We work well with the regulators and local enforcement agencies in Taiwan to tackle products specifically labelled 'Scotch Whisky'.  This collaboration is successful but a knock-on effect is a change in the fraudsters' behaviour. They are now using indirect indications of Scottish origin, or simply labelling their products as 'Whisky' in English, which tends to suggest that they are Scotch when they are not.  While in Taiwan I took the opportunity to discuss what we can do about this problem with the government.

Initiatives such as this UKTI-led trip should help more Scotch Whisky producers, and other British exporters, realise the opportunities of doing business with Taiwan.

Martin Bell is a deputy director of international affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).