Whisky producers are being urged to improve their UK marketing and encourage more drinkers to trade up to single malts in the wake of figures showing domestic sales lagging behind exports.

Exports of bottled single malt whisky grew a record 9% to £497m over 2008, and blended sales increased 9% to £2.43bn, Scotch Whisky Association figures revealed this week. But blended whisky sales in the UK rose 4% to £774m and malt sales were up 3% to £134m.

Campbell Evans, director of government and consumer affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association, blamed the weaker growth on a market “congested due to the sheer number of choices” for consumers.

“Even though the UK is the third-largest consumer of Scotch whisky in the world, more than 90% of our business remains overseas and encouraging British consumers to trade up to higher-value bottled malt whisky rather than blended remains challenging.”

To stand out and keep UK sales buoyant through the recession, companies must concentrate on raising awareness of their brands to encourage consumer loyalty, said Rob Bruce, Whyte & Mackay’s communications head.

“The UK Scotch whisky market is going through a tough time. The key to survival in this climate is remaining relevant to consumers to ensure you are their brand of choice,” he said.

“But we feel confident that, in these difficult times, consumers here still want to treat themselves to a good whisky, particularly one from a brand they know and trust.”