William Grant & Sons, owner of Grant's Scotch whisky, has reported a strong sales rise for 2008, but warned of deteriorating fortunes for Scotch in 2009.

Net sales for the 12 months of 2008 rose by around 20% to GBP598.3m (US$981m), against GBP495.7m in 2007, according to accounts filed by William Grant & Sons Holdings Ltd this week.

Operating profits also rose, to GBP95m from GBP80m, while net profits for the year after tax increased to GBP94.6m from GBP71.9m a year earlier. 

Sales of core brands, including Grant's, Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, were boosted by a "positive trading environment for Scotch whisky" during the year, William Grant said.

However, it warned of a turnaround in fortunes for the Scotch whisky sector following a deepening of the global financial crisis towards the end of the year.

"The industry started 2008 in buoyant mood, driven by a significant volume increase in 2007," said the firm. "However, during 2008, the economic situation deteriorated with export volumes of Scotch whisky falling over prior years," it said, adding that it expects to see pressure on premium whisky in the current year.

Results from other companies indicate that premium Scotch whisky has suffered in 2009.

In a statement released today (3 November), William Grant & Sons CEO Stella David said the group will "focus on building on the long-term value of Glenfiddich and other key brands".

During the course of 2008, William Grant & Sons said it completed several important initiatives, including the commissioning of its new malt distillery, Ailsa Bay.

Subsidiary group First Drinks Brands secured UK distribution rights to Remy Cointreau brands and also signed a joint venture with the French Cognac and Champagne group in France.

In addition, William Grant has begun distributing Stolichnaya vodka in the US, as well as in some European and Asian markets.