In light of a radical new Scottish government report that suggested the banning of all alcohol-branded merchandise, Scottish whisky distilleries have registered significant concerns over the possible impact on both the tourism industry and the economy in general.
What does the report say?
The report, which looked at possible methods to reduce the number of alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths in Scotland, echoed the World Health Organization’s suggestion that reducing the sale of branded merchandise could reduce the negative impact of excessive alcohol consumption.
Mirroring the measures taken to reduce smoking, the report suggests banning the sales of branded glasses, t-shirts, umbrellas, and other marketing items. It also suggests banning alcohol-branded sports merchandise.
It should, however, be noted that the report will not be translated directly into law, and there will be a consultation period between the Scottish Government and the alcohol and advertising industries.
What is the potential impact?
Banning the sale of branded merchandise could have a wide-ranging negative impact on both the alcohol and tourism industries. Many breweries and distilleries rely on merchandise for advertising, and obtaining limited-edition branded items is a vital part of the rapidly growing whisky tourism industry.
Whisky tourism supports more than just the breweries and their parent companies. It also provides the surrounding areas with a much-needed boost to their tourism economy. A ban on branded merchandise could lead to reduced sales for the alcohol industry and a drop in visitors to Scotland’s whisky regions. This would have an adverse effect both on local businesses and Scotland’s overall tourism income.
At the same time, the arts could be impacted, as institutions like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Scottish Ballet rely heavily on drinks brand sponsorship to make up for the shortfall in arts funding.
The current regulations have been in place since 1992, and the contributions from drinks brands have allowed these organisations to continue to operate. Furthermore, the Scottish economy relies heavily on whisky exports. Not only do these represent a significant income for producers, but they also contribute to Scotland’s global reputation as a provider of high-quality single-malt whisky.
Removing the branding of drinks brands could have a negative impact on such exports, as whisky consumers are often looking for reassurance and reliability when selecting their favourite tipple.
What has the reaction been so far?
Mainly one of disbelief and anger.
Key stakeholders in various sectors have pointed out the potentially disastrous impact of this proposed plan. While a ban on branding did reduce smoking in the U.K., simply applying the same rules to alcohol consumption doesn’t track.
The vast majority of cigarette suppliers provided the same product, whereas alcohol products vary widely in type and taste.
The idea that a pint of lager and a bottle of 70-year-old single malt are basically the same lacks a level of internal logic and could have far-ranging consequences without ever reducing the level of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations. In addition, some have pointed out that removing branding could potentially lead to an increase in counterfeit goods appearing in the market.
Without recognisable branding, it would be difficult for customers to differentiate between a genuine article and a fake product. In some cases, these counterfeit goods could even contain potentially harmful ingredients that would not appear in branded alcohol products.
As part of the consultation period, voices in the alcohol and advertising industries are encouraging the government to take a more nuanced approach to solving the issue.