Hunter Laing, the Scotch whisky bottler and blender, has highlighted growth in key export markets as it doubled profits in its most recent financial year, while declaring its first distillery is on track to open in spring.
Whisky veteran Stewart Laing, who runs Hunter Laing with sons Andrew and Scott, hailed the firm’s progress in Taiwan, China, France, Canada, the US, and the UK, which helped boost turnover by 27 per cent to £8.37m.
The firm, which bottles premium whiskies acquired from distilleries across Scotland under brands such as Old & Rare, Old Malt Cask and The Sovereign, exports to around 70 countries. UK sales are primarily focused on high-end independent whisky specialists.
Hunter Laing’s latest accounts were filed as the firm inches closer to opening its first distillery, at Ardnahoe on Islay. The £12m distillery could be up-and-running this month, with the firm awaiting only the final building warrant and consent before its official opening.
Commenting on the firm’s latest accounts, Stewart Laing said: “It has been a satisfactory year. [We are] continuing to lay a basis for our new and our existing brands. We are pleased with the progress.”
He added: “We are strengthening our position in a number of important markets.”
Mr Laing said growth in China has continued in Hunter Laing’s current financial year, despite the strain on Sino-US trading relations and slowing economic growth in the country.
He noted: “What I can say with some certainty is that, looking at our figures from the first of May 2018, our figures are better than they were this time last year for that particular market.”
Asked to comment on the Brexit deadlock, Mr Laing said the situation is “obviously a concern because Europe is an important part of what we do.”
“However, Europe is not the world as far as the whisky industry is concerned,” he added.
Highlighting the potential for growth in countries such as China, the US and Taiwan, he added: “It is still a big market.”
Mr Laing said trading with Europe is continuing as normal, and that the firm’s customers within the European Union had not so far requested any stockpiling of its products within the bloc. “We are not unhappy with that situation, given the way we trade and do our business,” he said.
The firm meanwhile is putting the finishing touches to its distillery on Islay, which it began working on in May 2017. David Armour, finance director at Hunter Laing, said the ultimate investment in the project has increased from £8m after the firm upgraded the specifications of the distillery, which will have double the capacity originally envisaged with a footprint twice as large.
Mr Armour said there has been some challenges along the way, including transporting contractors to and from Islay, but said the progress made on the 20-month project has been “exceptional”.
Mr Armour said: “We are pretty much on target in terms of costs and timing. As a project it has run relatively smoothly. There are always some wrinkles along the way, which we have managed to overcome.”
He added: “Yes, the [costs] have gone up, but the return on that is substantial, and we are very comfortable with what we have got for the money.”
Asked to describe the whisky which will be distilled at Ardnahoe, Mr Laing said it will be a “typical peaty Islay style”.
Production is being overseen by master distiller Jim McEwan, the Islay veteran who worked for Bowmore for nearly 40 years and was responsible for bringing the Bruichladdich Distillery out of mothballs. Mr McEwan was tempted out of retirement in 2017 to work on the project.
It will be “five years at the earliest, and seven or even eight potentially” before Ardnahoe releases its first spirit, Mr Laing said. “We will bring out the spirit when it is ready. There is a tremendous heritage in this spirit, and we want to maximise it in terms of quality and appeal to the consumer.”
He added: “The tests have proven [to be] extremely satisfactory.”
Mr Armour said the company increased its stock inventory by around £500,000 over the period. The value of inventories stood at £7.1m at April 30, up from £6.6m, the accounts show.
Mr Laing set up Hunter Laing in 2013 after he and brother Fred split the brands and assets of Douglas Laing & Co, which they had run together for more than 40 years. Fred Laing carried on the Douglas Laing name with his share of the business.
Written by: Scott Wright