“For Indian consumers, the attitude towards premiumisation is category agnostic and the openness to become repertoire users and not be married to one category has never been higher. We have looked at the consumers and we saw they really want to indulge, as opposed to abusing alcohol and we now have propositions—ready to drink, whiskey and gin—that are ready to be launched,” said Kartikeya Sharma, India and South East Asia president at AB InBev, which sells Budweiser and Corona.
Globally, brewers including Heineken and Carlsberg have steered clear of spirits segments and at most have only ready to drink products in their portfolio, making the move by AB InBev a first by any beer maker to enter these segments. The company is already piloting Mike’s seltzer and will launch blended scotch and premium gin in the fourth quarter of the calendar year.
“A big part of our development cycle went on the production side because that’s the muscle we needed to create since we are entering into a distilling space, which is relatively new to us. Being a company that was already selling premium and super premium beers, we were quite aware of the route to market channels, the classification of those channels and partners that will help us launch these brands the right way,” added Sharma.
According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, both scotch and gin are among the fastest growing categories with growth of 42% and 47% in 2021. While global companies such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard dominate the Scotch segment, the premium gin market has seen a host of local craft players gaining market share over the past few years.
“India is unusual in that spirits demand is significantly more developed than that for beer. While there is some interplay between the two among bang-for-buck consumers, there were some signs that demand for beer was beginning to develop separately. As the largest whiskey market in the world and the second-largest importer of Scotch behind France, India has a ready audience of consumers aspiring to be Scotch drinkers. India will remain on the radar for all as a priority market, with a strategic goal of sustaining this evident premiumisation,” added the IWSR report.
The American-Belgian multinational, however, maintained that beer category, still remains a core focus and has grown both in terms of market share as well as its premium salience. In fact, India is the fifth largest market for Budweiser by volume for the parent company globally.
AB InBev, which produces one in four beers around the world, generated nearly a third of its sales from premium brands in India two years ago. The contribution of pricier brands that also includes Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Corona has now increased to nearly 60%, which helped the firm turn profitable last fiscal.
“With the scale returning with double the premium mix two years ago, the cost control being fairly good and focussing on profitable markets versus just driving volume without profitability helped,” said Sharma.
India remains one of the largest beer markets, with more than 20 million people entering the legal age for drinking every year. However, the alcoholic beverages industry is heavily regulated, with excise and other taxes forming an important source of revenue for state governments. In states that collectively account for 70% of the industry’s revenue, the government controls manufacturing, distribution, retailing and pricing of liquor.