Mr MacRae moved into the position after what his predecessor declared had been “five-record-breaking years”, which saw the company achieve year-on-year growth and invest heavily in its sites around Scotland.
Projects have included doubling the production capacity of Ardbeg on Islay, the development of The Lighthouse innovation distillery at Glenmorangie in Tain, and the expansion of its bottling hall at Alba Campus in Livingston, where solar panels have been installed and will provide 40% of its electricity needs this year.
In an exclusive interview with The Herald, Mr MacRae highlighted the potential for the distiller to expand sales in the fast-growing Scotch whisky market of Asia as well as the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
When asked about his priorities in his new role, Mr MacRae underlined the distiller’s commitment to winning a bigger audience for its single malts, product innovation under director of whisky creation Dr Bill Lumsden and improving its environmental credentials.The company has a target of becoming net zero by 2040 and aims to halve its carbon emissions by 2030.
Mr MacRae also cited its desire to improve the “whisky experience” it offers, highlighting its investment at Glenmorangie House, its boutique hotel near the Highland distillery in Train, and its acquisition of the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen, which it plans to turn into a leading whisky and hospitality experience.
With Glenmorangie owned ultimately by LVMH, the publicly listed French luxury goods company, Mr MacRae said he was unable to share sales forecasts for the current year. But he declared: “When you work in single malt Scotch whisky it is one of the most widely diversified categories in the world in terms of markets where it is sold.
“This week I have been in budget conversations with Latin America, the Americas, North America, China, Asia-Pacific, India, Africa-Middle East, all of which are exciting long-term prospects. That diversification of markets means that even though I don’t think the world has ever been more volatile, in terms of short-term fluctuations, it means that we as a business are quite able to hedge, if you like, across the multiple markets where our business is done.
“Long term, we are really excited about the opportunities for both brands. The UK, USA, Germany, and Japan are probably our biggest current markets, but the growth in Asia-Pacific, whether you are talking about China, Korea, India, Taiwan – and the longer-term opportunity where we are seeing really good progress in Africa, Middle Wast and Latin America- means that we are really excited about the future prospects for the business.”
Mr MacRae added: “Global travel retail has rebounded strongly. We have been really well positioned with the launch of Ardbeg Smoketrails, and we were also delighted to see our core expressions – our Glenmorangie Travel Retail exclusive range, the 12, the 14 and the 16 (year-old) – all awarded global travel retail masters for the highest level of quality.”
Asked if the travel retail market had fully recovered from the pandemic, Mr MacRae said Glenmorangie’s brands were performing well but that the industry as a whole was still “slightly below” pre-Covid levels. “We are projecting a return to pre-Covid levels or even better in the year ahead,” he added.
On the inflationary pressures that have faced the whisky industry in recent months, Mr Macrae noted that the well-documented spike in energy costs had “secondary impacts all along our supply chain”. He said: “For us, it is something we are trying to manage in a sustainable way. It is very important to remember that when our costs rise in the short term, we are producing products today that won’t be sold for 12 years. So, we try and manage and incorporate and balance costs over a longer-term trajectory to make sure we are not taking a knee-jerk reaction, in either way, in terms of rising costs.
“Clearly, for us and all businesses, rising costs is something that we do need to manage and look at closely in the next 24 months.”
On whether Glenmorangie had seen sales affected by the cost of living crisis, Mr MacRae said: “I think everyone is feeling the pinch at little bit. Of course, it varies in markets around the world. The economy in Asia, for example, is still very vibrant. The economy in India is still very vibrant. It is impacting in different parts of the world to different degrees.
“You need to be sensitive to changing consumer demands. I was previously a marketer, so for me always placing the consumer and the customer in the centre of what you are thinking in terms of meeting their needs and adapting to their needs is something that we place a great emphasis on.”
India has long been identified as a market of huge potential for Scotch whisky and there are hopes talks between the UK and India over a free trade deal could result in a major breakthrough. Mr MacRae said India is a “very exciting and dynamic” market with customers who are extremely knowledgeable about Scotch whisky, and emphasised that Glenmorangie was developing long-term plans for the country that were not dependent on the trade talks.
Mr MacRae, who has worked for the distiller for five years, was speaking on the day the company officially launched A Tale of Tokyo, a limited-edition Glenmorangie single malt matured in sherry and bourbon casks which subsequently spent time in Japanese Mizunara oak. He said that Dr Lumsden had made “something quite delicious” with the whisky, which has a recommended retail price of £76 per bottle.
“We don’t want it to be inaccessible to lovers of single malt whisky,” Mr MacRae said. “It is a special whisky, but it is not an exorbitantly expensive whisky, because we want it to be something that can be enjoyed or gifted or shared among friends around the world.”
Reflecting on his appointment to the top job, Mr MacRae said: “I’ll be honest, it is a dream job. I have always been very passionate about Scotland, very passionate about Scotch whisky, particularly these two brands as well – Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.
“So, for me, taking on this role is very much about building upon the success of my predecessors. The company has been around for about 200 years. I will feel the weight of responsibility to ensure that I pass it on to my successor in a better state than I found it.
“But I am very excited about the agenda for the next few years.”