Diageo, the global drinks giant, has underlined its commitment to a multi-million whisky investment in Scotland but has said its flagship Johnnie Walker visitor centre in the Scottish capital will not meet its original completion deadline of the end of this year.

The company saw its half-year profits almost halve following the closure of pubs and bars in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which also temporarily halted the revamp of the former House of Fraser store in Princes Street into a seven-storey whisky centre with rooftop bars and brand experience.

It revealed that operating profits sank 47 per cent to £2.1 billion in the year to June 30, as it was also hit by a £1.3bn write-down across its operations in India, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Korea.

Total sales fell by 9% to £11.8bn for the year despite being boosted by growth in sales in North America.

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The Princes Street site is part of a plan that includes revamping distilleries such as Cardhu and Clynelish, and is now expected to be completed in the first half of next year.

Ewan Andrew, the firm’s president of global supply and procurement and chief sustainability officer, said it had no staff on furlough but that it is too early to tell whether jobs would be affected in the longer term.

He said: “It was the eighth consecutive half year of growth we had in our business when we reported back in January, but it has been a game of two halves.

“The second half has had a significant impact from Covid-19.

“We have taken a lot of decisive action across the business to protect our people and our business and support customers and communities.”

First Look: Diageo’s Edinburgh whisky tourism experience at night

He said: “In Scotland in particular we have had brilliant support from our employees. Their dedication and commitment continued to make sure that our product flow to customers was outstanding.

“We have not been involved in any furloughing, our employees have remained employed and we have redeployed people despite the challenges we have had in key areas like global travel, essentially that market has all but disappeared, and then the shift from the bars and clubs being closed for a long period and that demand moving into the supermarkets and the off-trade.

“We do more than Scotch. We’ve got the gin and the other products that are made here too but Scotch is for the long term.

“We make decisions and take our strategy with real confidence that Scotch is enduring. It is something that we plan for and take action on, in still a bold way, but over years and decades not over weeks and months for continued confidence to keep investing in Scotland and our Scotch brands.”

Mr Andrew also said: “We have been in a strong position as a strong company to be able to support our business and employees and we pivoted them as we’ve seen demand growing in the off-trade channel and e-commerce and areas like that.”

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He added: “We are continuing to invest in Scotland, so the programme of £150m investment continues. The work is ongoing at Johnnie Walker, Princes Street, in Edinburgh.

“It was due to open at the end of the year. It will open now in the first half of 2021, and we will confirm that date.

“The visitor centres are coming back online but we are doing that sensitively. We are still investing on those visitor centres as well at quite a significant rate.

“Whether it is local tourism in the short term and international tourism in the longer terms we believe that it is right for Scotch and right for Scotland to stimulate that growth.”

Ivan Menezes, chief executive of the company, said: “While the trajectory of the recovery is uncertain, with volatility expected to continue into fiscal 21, I am confident in our strategy, the resilience of our business and am very proud of the way our people have responded. We are well-positioned to emerge stronger.”

Shares closed down 5.6% at 2,721p.