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What really is "the Duty Free market?"

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@vanPelt
vanPelt started a discussion

This has been puzzling me for some time: People reference "the duty free market" as if the market comprises a segment having different preferences. Is this true? And if so, does it mean quality should be higher (jet-setters) or lower (bargain hunters / tax-avoiders)?

What I really want to understand is why some whiskies would only be available in Duty Free, rather than other venues. (Maybe there are higher end examples..., but I'm thinking of Balvenie's Golden Cask, Aberlour's "15", Bowmore Mariner, and Highland Park 1998.) Why should we not be able to buy these in specialty shops or online? Is there a business strategy behind this? Or is it really a different target group of consumers, who shop "differently"?

And sorry that I have typed 6 question marks; answers to any of them would help satisfy my curiosity...

10 years ago

24 replies

@PMessinger
PMessinger replied

@vanPelt Great question I have often wondered why certain expressions are only available in Duty Free Shops. Never thought to ask this question thanks for asking, I hope many will respond, don't worry about all the question marks my grammar was never that good anyway. Thanks again. :)

10 years ago 0

@tjb
tjb replied

@vanPelt Great question. I always just assumed it was to create interest and demand through scarcity. Something that is hard to get means that when you see it you buy it.

10 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

I think that "odd lots" and 'miscellaneous' describes a lot of "exclusively" Duty Free offerings: some whisky made from, say, a 10-20 cask batch for which the supply was not big enough to justify an advertising campaign, or a wide-ranging distribution. It had to be released somewhere. They tend to be middle-of-the-road in quality, because if they were the really hot numbers, then they would have been judged worthy of promotion and strict allocation even with limited quantitities of the juice available.

10 years ago 4Who liked this?

@DDC
DDC replied

Great question: I think it may be a little of everything. Marketing is definitely involved, giving the impression of limited amounts, which may or may not be accurate. It is also something the duty-free shops can use to market. I don't think they are the low end scotches, otherwise duty-free wouldn't carry, as their rep and market would be damaged.

Yes, as they are appealing to the traveller, they would only carry the best from each distillery they have approved for distribution. Not all distilleries can market through duty-free. As I travel quite often, I have had the opportunity of purchasing some of these 'limited scotches'. They have all been excellent. Besides, if you add to your cabinet, it gives you something to positive to talk about. (the point of their marketing plan)

10 years ago 2Who liked this?

@PMessinger
PMessinger replied

I can't help but wonder how much Richard Paterson and Whyte & Mackay's early 1970's entry into the Duty Free marketing with British Airways has helped to hype up niche markets for short runs or odd lots as @Victor said. These may not be bad products or more middle of the road expressions as @DDC points out still are they worth the hype. Most times when I travel I only find big brands like Dewars, JW, Crown, Seagrams, etc. These are not bad products just not worth a lot of attention for me, again a humble opinion from a non expert whisky enthusiast. :)

10 years ago 0

@scotchguy74
scotchguy74 replied

I did not read down too far. BUT, Victor is pretty much spot on in my opinion. My addition would be that the "bargain hunters" are far more numerous than the "jet-setters". There seems to be far more labels of lower quality whiskey (whisky) offered in bargain stores simply because of the shoppers who shop them. If a store advertises a high quality whiskey (whisky) they at the same time label themselves to be a certain quality store. In rural America I would want to be bargain store... hahaha.

10 years ago 0

@Wills
Wills replied

Very interesting postings.

And I would like to add a related question: What are your recommendations for whiskys which are only available in the duty free market?

10 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor replied

@Wills, I see visiting the Duty Free as similar to going on a scavenger hunt or visiting a flea market. Absent the occasional on-line product listing, you really don't know what's going to be in there until you physically get there and have a look. You can't get your hopes up too high because you often will find nothing at all that you want, but you might also find a really good deal once in awhile, usually on something you already know something about. About the 'duty free exclusives', because they are often limited to duty free, it can be very hard to get good intel on them in advance, so, unless you know someone(s) with direct experience with those particular products, you are often in the position of taking a "shot in the dark" if you make the decision to commiting to buying some of those products.

That said, I have gotten at duty free shops some great prices a few times on products which were known and otherwise unavailable, e.g., coming out of Canada by car, Litres of Talisker 57 North for $ 67 and 700 ml of Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX for $ 72. I wasn't in the market for it at the time, but I just 10 days ago saw a mountain of Glengoyne at a duty free such that you might otherwise have to go to Scotland to behold. Maybe 10 different products with several cask strength offerings. The clerk told me that no one buys that Glengoyne. That, I guess, is why they still have it and have so much of it. It can be a strange hodge-podge at the duty free. The stranger, the better, because that gives you selection and opportunity.

10 years ago 2Who liked this?

@PMessinger
PMessinger replied

@ Victor is right again folks. Most of the time I might find an odd duck or something worth taking a chance on but usually I will have already done some scouting, homework, and then I have to stumble on it in a Duty Free shop. Most of the time I can just get what I want at the destination point of my journey. :)

10 years ago 0

@DDC
DDC replied

Here are other examples of a 'Duty Free' scotch, 1 litre bottle of Balvenie Doublewood ($55 Can) and Golden Cask (now discontinued, $65 Can) or a high end one like Balvenie 30 yr ($495 Can). Another one, I found and liked is the '1824 The MACALLAN SELECT OAK'. One litre size, only 40%. Very smooth, sweet, nice depth, very middle of the road, blend of their different years. $55 Canadian. Interestingly, it was not mentioned (when I originally checked) on their main website. I had to find it under aforementioned name. At the very least, we have some access to single malt scotch when we travel!!

10 years ago 0

@Max
Max replied

Great topic indeed. In my opinion DF releases are pure marketing. I've yet to find DF release that is better than regular bottling. Has something to do with exclusivity of course.

As for the bargain. It is really a hit and miss. I just returned from Nice, France today. DF in the airport was nothing but a disaster. I returned home empty handed( not only whisk(e)y selection was poor, but prices were high as hell as well. They were actually higher than in local liquor shops, you say duty free, huh...

10 years ago 0

@Ol_Jas
Ol_Jas replied

As always, folks like us who read whisky boards and research available bottles beforehand are the vast minority. I think many airport "duty free" offerings are positioned as impulse buys for the happy traveler killing time before his flight.

These are totally made up stats, but it feels to me like 90% of the bottles at "duty free" are bigger brand names like JW, Macallan, and Highland Park. At your local liquor store, however, I'd say the big names are about 50% of the bottles. The big names are capable of turning a time-killing window shopper into an impulse buyer.

10 years ago 0

@vanPelt
vanPelt replied

Impressive participation, thanks to all for sensible & thoughtful answers.

Having said that, it would be really nice to more good reviews here for some of the "duty free exclusives." I remember being in the airport (maybe AMS or BRU?) a year ago, browsing this website for a review of Aberlour 15 double cask. There is still no such review to be found on this site-- although apparently 20 Connosr members own the bottle! (Which might tell you that the "market segment" for these whiskies is not the same segment which writes reviews...??)

10 years ago 0

msudukie replied

I am not sure I really get the negative comments here. Shouldn't the discussion highlight HP 21, Talisker 57 North, Balvenie Tun Batch 7 as quality whisky that started ad duty free exclusive. I know the first two are now sold in retail UK but still started in duty free. Are these just recent aberrations or are we missing part of the story?

10 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Ol_Jas
Ol_Jas replied

My comments, at least -- the ones about bottles intended as impulse buys -- wasn't meant as negative. Just an understanding of the premise.

I always browse the shops when I travel. And I look forward to one day walking out with a Talisker 57. That's the kind of thing I expect. I don't expect rare IB CS bottles of unknown distilleries. :)

10 years ago 0

msudukie replied

@OlJas I probably could have used another word than negative as I don't want to seem critical of others' posts. Just had a sense that the duty free arena was maybe not being shown as a good option to find a few exclusive, great whiskies here and there. @Victor did kind of highlight this, just thought another voice would be a good one. My best duty free find a few months back was 2006 Ardbeg ANB for $80.

10 years ago 0

@CaptinTom
CaptinTom replied

Simple In my humble opinion the answer is quite simple. It’s a good way of testing the market. You get a wide range of people coming through the travel retail shops, and it gives the manufacturer a good idea of what sells, without having to produce vast amounts in case it doesn’t sell. I think you will find that quite a few whiskies that are now considered part of a core range, started life as a duty free exclusive.

10 years ago 3Who liked this?

Htran replied

Totally agree with captin Tom, it's a way of testing the market for new products without too much expenditure.

10 years ago 0

DevD replied

@msudukie, Where did you find the 2006 Ardbeg ANB for $80, that's an excellent price. The Niagara Falls Duty Free shop has few bottles of Talisker 57 N for $65 for a 1L bottle which I consider an excellent price.

10 years ago 0

msudukie replied

@DevD I found in the St. Martin airport which is small but has three duty free stores. They also had Talisker 10 for $35 and Aberlour A'bunadh Batch 22 for $65. My only regret is not getting the other two bottles of ANB.

10 years ago 0

@scotchguy74
scotchguy74 replied

@Victor My gosh man - the ignorance of many is a blessing of manna for the one who knows what the hell he beholds! hahaha

10 years ago 0

@vanPelt
vanPelt replied

To reiterate one of my points (and address one of @Victor's): I hope Connosr can help avoid that "shot in the dark" purchase of duty free exclusives, by increasing intel with more contributions from (traveling) members. For what it's worth, the Bowmore 17 is the best duty free exclusive that I've purchased-- so far....

10 years ago 0

@DDC
DDC replied

This has been a very good discussion. Most of the reasons suggested, I'm sure, are probably correct to some degree. If there is a way to minimize their production costs, and focus on profitability by using Duty Free. I'm sure they will do so. Enjoy the hunt for a favourite Scotch in Duty Free!

10 years ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

@vanPelt. I agree with you on the Bowmore 17. I grabbed two at LAX on the way back from Mexico in Feb. Glad I did, it's far better than the weak 18 and not a bad price (about $70) at duty free.

10 years ago 0

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