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Diageo’s Johnnie Walker shake-up is too radical

Johnnie Walker is the world’s best selling line of Scotch and Diageo’s number one brand by value, with annual sales in excess of $1.5 billion dollars. It has also been one of the company’s major growth engines, a trend Diageo has been able to perpetuate with successful tweaks to the line, such as the 2011 introduction of Johnnie Walker Double-Black. But the change currently underway goes beyond mere tweak. Red and Black, the line’s lower-end offerings, and Blue, its high end, have been left alone, but everything in the middle is changing. Diageo’s strategy is to focus on blended Scotch (where they see the potential for the most growth) and to encourage buyers to move up the product chain, but each change carries risks.

Elimination of Green Label: Introduced in 2004, Johnnie Walker Green Label has never been one of its best performers, and with sales falling, the decision to scrap the expression seems straightforward, even obvious, if one goes entirely by the numbers. Numbers, in this case, don’t tell the entire story. Green label is one of the line’s most highly rated products, and the line’s only blended malt (malt whisky from multiple distilleries) as opposed to blended Scotch (malt and grain whisky from multiple distilleries). The packaging proudly names and promotes four of the malts that make up the blend, including Talisker and Cragganmore, both of which are part of Diageo’s highly successful Classic Malts series. The decision to scrap the Green Label could alienate malt whisky fans, to some of whom, a fine malt whisky is always superior to a blended whisky. These malt lovers may constitute a relatively small segment of the Scotch market, but it is an influential segment, and they are the very consumers Diageo targets with Classic Malts series.

Julian Close

Julian Close became a stockbroker in 1995. In his 20 years of market experience, he has seen all market conditions and written about every aspect of investing. Julian has also written extensively on corporate best practices and even written reports for the United Nations. He graduated from Davidson College in 1993 and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Mary Baldwin College in 2011. You can see closing trades for all Julian's long and short positions and track his long term performance via twitter: @JulianClose_MIC.