Diageo to rename McDowell’s Whiskey outside of India

Drinks maker, Diageo Plc has reached an agreement with the Scotch Whiskey Association (SWA) to rename one of its biggest-selling whiskey brands, McDowell’s No. 1 to another name. It has also agreed not to export its Bagpiper brand outside of India.

McDowell’s and Bagpiper are both Indian whiskeys, whose origins are widely known within India. However, the Scotch Whiskey Association (SWA) argued that outside of India, many consumers mistakenly assume they are Scotch Whiskeys because of their name and reference to Scotland.

McDowell’s No.1, which is produced by Diageo’s Indian business unit, United Spirits Limited (USL) is the world’s second-largest whiskey brand by volume behind fellow Indian whiskey brand, Officer’s Choice, according to International Wine & Spirit Research (IWSR).

Around 25 million nine-litre cases of McDowell’s No. 1 were sold in 2014 compared to just under 19 million cases of Johnnie Walker, Diageo’s flagship Scotch.

While both brands are two of Diageo’s biggest selling whiskeys, only a small amount are exported from India. Diageo will be allowed to keep the brand name in India. According to IWSR, just 0.3% of Bagpiper and 2.6% of McDowell’s No. 1 is sold abroad.

Outside of India, McDowell’s is sold in about 10 countries in Africa, with Nigeria being the largest market. Other markets include Abu Dhabi, Dubai and South East Asian countries.

“We have come to an agreement with SWA in relation to Bagpiper and the labeling of McDowell’s in markets outside India,” Diageo said. “We will now be working through a transition period to implement the changes.”

The new name for McDowell’s is yet to be confirmed.

McDowell’s and Bagpiper became part of Diageo’s portfolio in 2014 when the drinks maker acquired the majority share in United Spirits.

A spokesperson for Scotch Whisky Association said: “The SWA monitors carefully any use of Scottish names on spirit drinks that are not Scotch Whiskies in world markets. Following its take-over of United Spirits, the SWA has had helpful and positive discussions with Diageo about the Bagpiper and McDowell’s brands, with agreement reached on those brands in markets outside India.

“In India, where these brands have been on sale for several decades, it is understood that McDowell’s and Bagpiper have a reputation locally as Indian brands. The situation is clearly different in markets outside India, where the brands are not well known. Details of the agreement and transition arrangements remain confidential to the parties.”

The SWA works to keep the Scotch whisky category clear of imitations and maintains that only whisky made in Scotland and under certain guidelines can be called Scotch. A number of flavoured whiskies made by Scotch producers in the past few years were told by the SWA to use the term “Scotch-based spirit drink” to avoid misleading consumers.

In Nigeria where McDowell’s No. 1 has market share, Guinness Nigeria Plc announced in Mid-January that it had acquired the exclusive rights from Diageo to distribute the brand in Nigeria. The transaction was to become effective on 1st February 2016.

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