Diageo CEO urges UK to protect whisky ‘jewel’

Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes

The chief executive of drinks giant Diageo — owner of many Scotch whisky brands including Johnnie Walker, Bell’s, Talisker, Lagavulin and Dalwhinnie — has urged the UK and Scottish governments to keep the “jewel business” of Scotch “healthy and thriving” following the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU.

Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes was speaking as the company unveiled results for the year ended June 30, in which it returned to growth after two flat years.

Menezes said Scotch whisky makes up about 25% of Diageo’s business.

For the year, Diageo reported net sales of £10.48 billion and operating profit of £2.84 billion.

“Out of Brexit, our focus is really ensuring that we keep Scotch whisky healthy — the trade agreements in Europe and around the world,” said Menezes in an interview with CNBC.

“You know, Johnnie Walker was in over 100 markets long before Coca Cola left the shores of America.

“Our business is built on global trade and that to me is the most important aspect we want to make sure we keep so that the Scotch whisky industry and our business indeed remains competitive and healthy.”

Scotch Whisky exports reached £3.86 billion in customs value last year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

Scotch accounts for a quarter of UK food and drink exports and supports 40,000 jobs across the UK.

Asked about any risks to Diageo from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s comments on Scotland possibly “disconnecting” from the UK if the UK left the EU, Menezes said: “Well, our focus is Scotch whisky, so I’m for Scotch.

“And regardless of what happens we’ve got to make sure that this vibrant, very successful export business that has a teriffic runway ahead has the conditons in place to compete on the global stage.

“And both with the UK and Scottish governments, our messages are very clear: create the conditions to keep what truly is one of the jewel businesses in the United Kingdom and in Scotland healthy and thriving.

“We and the industry and the Scotch Whisky Association are making that point very clear.”