Diageo forces small companies out of The Gathering

Our attention has been drawn to a drama happening behind the scenes of the preparations for The Gathering, the centrepiece event of the Homecoming Scotland initiative, which will take place in Edinburgh in July.

In short words, Diageo, one of the main sponsors of the event and, as it happens, the most powerful drinks company in the world, secured to be the only whisky company present at the Scottish Produce Market, despite it being advertised as an opportunity for the small, independent producers to showcase their genuinely Scottish goods.

Independent whisky distillers and bottlers have been informed that their applications to be part of the Scottish Produce Market “had been rejected due to a conflict with Diageo”.

Fiona Richmond, project manager at Scotland Food and Drink, for The Scotsman:

“We did have interest from a number of whisky companies in taking space, and although we wouldn’t have been able to accommodate them all, it is a bit unfortunate that whisky products will not be available. It’s a critical part of the food and drink industry and we need to keep alive small independent producers.”

Surely for even mentioning small producers Fiona will be getting a sack. Diageo will make sure…

Alex Nicol, managing director of Spencerfield, an independent producer in Inverkeithing, Fife, whose brands include Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose, said:

“It’s a complete stitch-up. We are a small, independent company and now find we’ve been bulldozed out of one of the biggest cultural dates in Scotland’s events calendar.

“We were recently informed by Scotland Food and Drink that our application to be part of the Scottish Produce Market had been rejected due to a conflict with Diageo, one of the event sponsors.

“But The Gathering’s website clearly states that ‘traders can sell a wide variety of high-quality Scottish fare produced by themselves’. We do not present any threat to Diageo, but this action is typical of big companies.”

How dare you say such things, Alex! Now not only you can’t display your products at The Gathering of Diageo and Friends, but the bouncers won’t even let you in. Not even if you wear a kilt. Not even if you paint your face blue and have a plastic Claymore on your back. My advice to you? Stay at home and get yourself sloshed on some Gallo wine…


Update: a response from Diageo as published today on scotsman.com:

I would like to respond to the alarming misrepresentation of Diageo’s sponsorship of “The Gathering”.

“The Gathering” is a commercial undertaking that required money from commercial sponsors to make the event happen. We believe approaches were made to a number of Scotch Whisky producers including Diageo. After some negotiation, Diageo agreed to spons

or the event on terms that are absolutely standard for any commercial sponsorship – exclusivity for Diageo whisky brands being a core part of the agreement as it would be in any brand sponsorship of any event.

When we entered this sponsorship we were not aware of the plans for a food and drink festival associated with “The Gathering”. This has come as a surprise to us and we can understand the views of other producers who feel they have been denied access. Scotland’s whisky industry has a rich diversity of brands and cultures and these deserve to be celebrated.

Diageo is the largest single supporter of “The Homecoming” and just this month unveiled in Edinburgh the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky bottles and memorabilia, bought by Diageo from a Brazilian collector and brought back to Scotland as part of our commitment to Homecoming.

Anyone visiting the Diageo Claive Vadiz Collection in the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh will notice that it contains Scotch Whisky brands from producers across the industry.

Director, Corporate Relations, Diageo Whisky Edinburgh Park Lochside Way


What can I say? I guess I have to apologise for the title of this post. You didn’t force small companies out of The Gathering. It turns out they forced themselves out with their disgraceful lack of money! Fair and square.


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The original article in The Scotsman
Diageo’s response
The Gathering of Diageo and Friends website
Spencerfield Spirits Company website


  1. I have just counted that the ratio of turnovers between Diageo and Spencerfield (whisky only) is like 16,000 to 1

  2. The thing that really makes me laugh about Diageos response is that they “were not aware of the plans for a food and drink festival associated with “The Gathering”"

    So does that mean that they are spending in the region of £50,000 sponsoring an event that they haven’t even thought to look into!

    The other thing about their response is the bit about the largest collection of whisky in the world coming home! Fair play it is a very large whisky collection but I beg to disagree that it is the largest collection in the world…

  3. Wait! There is still one solution for the independent distillers if they want to be part of the gathering! Let Diageo buy them off…

  4. I like the fact the collection was mentioned. Its a very good point that Diageo shows other brands aswell as their own in the collection. What were they going todo? Hide all the other, non Diageo Whiskies in a cupboard somewhere?

    Its a worrying state of affairs when companies cannot show off their produce and just let the public decide who’s best.

  5. Little bird told me there might be an alternative event running with a bunch of independents involved… uuuu… shall be fun times:)

  6. I have heard a rumour that Diageo are willing to re-negotiate the sponsorship deal to allow independents and other Whisky companies in. If this is the case, then much respect.

  7. As much as i dislike the stranglehold that large companies have on local economies, I can understand Diageo’s position here. What other company would pay to promote rivals – and not ALL other whisky producers are ‘small’.

    This begs the question as how do we support those smaller enterprises who can’t afford big bucks on PR.

    How about tax breaks for smaller whisky distillers? They more than pay their way already in terms of providing employment in mostly rural areas. Their own contribution to Scotland’s international profile should also not be underestimated.

    To get political – if the London government can spend £billions on war and nuke missile, why not a few quid on home grown industry? If £millions can be given to multi-nationals to ‘entice’ them to relocate for a few years to Scotland why then can’t our traditional and smaller companies get tax breaks that will see wider benefits than just the single enterprise?

    As to Diageo not being aware of the related food & drink shindig, this is possible given the idiocy of local and national government in Scotland. For example, why was there little or no Scottish produce at the St. Andrew’s Day ceilidh in the gardens? No Scots’ beer or whisky was to be had at the bar. Not even IrnBru if my memory serves me right. I think Holyrood has to get it’s act together too.

  8. Well, I will probably be unpopular playing the devil advocate. Diageo put some conditions to sponsor the event, the event organization accepted.
    So I agree we can discuss about the Diageo’s conditions (I agree they should not fear the small mice eating the big table legs) but main responsability is on the organization side, but you know, events are expensive to organize and “pecunia non olet”.
    About renegotiation of conditions for sure Diageo is a huge company with a huge marketing dept, so if they feel something is wrong for their image, they will react immediatly.

  9. Let’s face it, Ken Robertson of Diageo, will say anything to present Diageo in a positive light , includiong any outright lies required.

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