DIAGEO chief executive Ivan Menezes has said the drinks giant plans to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in its Scotch whisky operations in coming years and underlined the scale of the opportunity to grow sales globally.

Speaking as Diageo unveiled a £150m investment in Scotch whisky visitor experiences north of the Border, Mr Menezes said the business is core to the group. The London-based giant sees the prospect of decades of growth in the market.

Mr Menezes noted whisky has become the drink of choice for a new class of aspirational consumers that has emerged amid rapid economic growth in areas such as Asia.

READ MORE: China revival boosts whisky giant Diageo

The investment programme is intended to help Diageo ensure its whisky brands such as Johnnie Walker have strong positions in favoured markets and that the group’s output keeps pace with demand.

The maturation process involves long time scales. However, Mr Menezes said Diageo is ready to draw on its significant financial muscle to make the required investment in production supported by hefty spending on marketing.

“We see good growth on whisky trends,” he told journalists in Edinburgh, adding: “To support the supply structure this business does take capital and we are in a strong position to keep investing behind it.”

The company plans to develop a new Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh and to upgrade 12 existing visitor centres in distilleries around the country over the next three years.

The programme is expected to provide a big boost for key sectors of the Scottish economy in the shape of the food and drink and tourism industries.

“Scotch is at the heart of Diageo, and this new investment reinforces our ongoing commitment to growing our Scotch brands and supporting Scotland’s tourism industry,” said Mr Menezes of the visitor centres.

He made clear that the spend on these forms part of a programme that will involve significant long-term investment in growth.

Diageo said it has invested over £1 billion pounds over the past six years in building its Scotch infrastructure to grow exports around the world.

Asked if the company would maintain that level of investment, Mr Menezes said: “We will stay fully invested here. It will be hundreds of millions of pounds over the next few years.”

He added: “We don’t disclose the specific investment but what I can tell you is these are serious numbers.”

Regarding the outlook for whisky sales, Mr Menezes said the spirit has all the characteristics that modern consumers are looking for.

“There’s craft, heritage, place, ingredients, the liquid, the stories of how whisky’s made, so it’s very much playing to trend.”

Diageo has strong positions in markets in which economic change is fuelling demand for the drink.

“Our job is to really ensure that the next generation of consumers in Vietnam, Kenya, Columbia view Scotch as highly aspirational and view ... some of our beautiful brands as brands they truly aspire to,” said Mr Menezes.

The investment in Scotch whisky experience centres will form a key part of the brand building effort.

Diageo described it as the biggest concerted programme ever in Scotland’s whisky tourism sector.

The centre-piece will be a Johnnie Walker centre based in Edinburgh, which Diageo plans to open in time for the 200th anniversary of the founding of the brand in 2020.

It expects the centres will benefit from strong growth in tourism in Scotland and reinforce that trend. Other whisky players will benefit along with travel and hospitality firms.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the centres plan showed Scotland is a leading destination for tourists and business investors.

Regarding Brexit, Mr Menezes said Diageo is committed to Scotland regardless of what happens in the world.

He said ministers need to ensure the trade, regulatory and support arrangements are in place for the industry to flourish, noting: “As the Brexit negotiations are progressing I think there’s a very good appreciation of what’s important for this industry and the importance of keeping this industry competitive and thriving.”

While Minimum Pricing of alcohol is due to come into force in Scotland next month, in spite of objections from the whisky industry, Mr Menezes said he was not concerned other countries would follow suit.

“We want targeted interventions that deliver measurable results,” said Mr Menezes of efforts to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

Diageo plans to restart production from the Port Ellen distillery on Islay and Brora in Sutherland.

It has increased output from a number of distilleries in recent years.

The group employs 3,500 people in Scotland.

Mr Menezes said Diageo will maintain its investment in the Scotch Whisky Experience facility in Edinburgh. The Johnnie Walker centre should help amplify its effect.