Kavir Advani, Country Advisor, IBHL, says the Indian whisky market is driven by strong demand for high-quality, premium alcoholic beverages and increase in consumer purchasing power
Established in 2006 as the international arm of ThaiBev, International Beverage Holdings Limited (IBHL) is one of the industry’s most dynamic global drinks businesses. IBHL specialises in developing premium local brands for global growth and has a portfolio of high quality drink brands. These include some of the fastest growing spirits and whiskies today and are consumed in over 85 global markets and are among the very best in the industry, each having won multiple global awards. IBHL is endowed with a range of exceptionally high quality Scotch whiskies and we have much to be proud of when it comes to our track record for quality, innovation and sustainable distilling.
IBHL has been present in India since 2015 with a presence in key states such as Delhi and Maharashtra. “Since then, our Indian portfolio of Old Pulteney, Balblair, Speyburn and Caorunn Gin has been well-received among the Indian audience. Our product range remains in high demand in travel retail stores including Delhi Duty-Free Shops (DDFS). The Indian whisky market is being driven by strong demand for high-quality, premium alcoholic beverages with an increase in consumer purchasing power. The audience in India is highly knowledgeable and appreciates not just the taste but the story behind each bottle that they proudly own. As a global family of drinks brands, we take pride in the craftsmanship, the quality and the individual stories behind each of our brands,” shares Kavir Advani, Country Advisor, IBHL.
Throwing light on the Indian spirits market, Advani says that it has continued to grow in significance over the past few decades and therefore has been an integral part of most alco-bev companies’ plans. Being one of the world’s largest whisky markets, India is one of the most challenging markets to succeed in and in some cases, can be one of the most unforgiving. Therefore, it is incumbent on all companies to ensure they have a thorough understanding of its intricacies. “We, as a company, are no different. Prior to entering the market, IBHL deliberated and studied the Indian market for a significant amount of time before deciding on the right approach. It has taken us the better part of a decade to decide on how and when to enter the market, armed with an understanding of its nuances, opportunities and equally importantly, its limitations,” says IBHL Country Advisor.
From a consumer perspective, consumer tastes have evolved rapidly, in line with global trends, he opines, adding that Indian consumer today is a more discerning, demanding and more empowered. “When entering the Indian market, we were clear in what subset of the whisky and white spirits markets we wanted to operate in and were confident we had the right brands to do so. In terms of our portfolio, the brands that we offer in India are Old Pulteney, Balblair, Speyburn in the single malt segment and Caorunn Gin in the premium gin category. We knew if we wanted to win over the Indian consumer, we would have to bring our best brands and so we carefully selected our multiple award-winning brands right at the onset,” avers Advani.
As the alcohol market in India continues to grow and evolve, he shares that it is important for the company to keep in mind that the socio-economic landscape of the country is very complex. “There is growth and change at every level. Greater social acceptance for consumption of alcohol is being seen across social strata. In larger cities, there is also the visible emergence of specialty spirits and super premium offerings. With its offerings in India, IBHL caters to a diverse range of consumers and their palate preferences,” he says.
Sharing his views on how competitive are the prices vis-à-vis other brands in the same bracket in India and who is their target audience, Advani says, “In terms of price competitiveness, we are reasonably priced in relation to competitors. Of course, for most imported brands bottled in Scotland, pricing remains a challenge, with the various state and Central duties. However, it is a challenge the industry in general faces, so it doesn’t necessarily impact our pricing alone, but rather it impacts the category in general.”
Each of IBHL brands cater to the varied palate of the Indian single malt and gin consumer:
‘Maritime Malt’, Old Pulteney is a multiple award-winning single malt Scotch whisky with a deep connection to the coast of Scotland. Given its hometown location being one of the northern most distilleries on the coast of Scotland, Old Pulteney’s character is heavily influenced by its unique location and surroundings.
Balblair, another malt in the portfolio, comes from one of the oldest distilleries in the highlands of Scotland. It is a smaller batch Scotch whisky that is loved by whisky aficionados due to its commitment to preserving the time-old traditions of whisky making. Balblair is a perfect mix of nature and nurture. A gentle, hands-on approach is what gives Balblair its distinctive character. A character you won’t find anywhere else. This whisky has won many awards with the most recent being the silver medal from the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2021.
Speyburn, a classic Speyside offering, is an extremely approachable malt with bold, bright, fresh notes, and has characteristics that epitomise Speyside whiskies. Speyburn Distillery is one of the largest distilleries in the Speyside region of Scotland. This year, Speyburn celebrates its 125th anniversary.
Advani adds the gin market in India and for that matter around the world has grown exponentially over the past five years. “We also offer a premium gin called Caorunn Gin, handcrafted in small batches at Balmenach Distillery in Scottish Highlands. It is a unique blend of five handpicked Celtic botanicals and six classic gin botanicals distilled in the world’s only working Copper Berry Chamber to extract maximum flavour. Caorunn Gin secured a silver award at the International Spirits Challenge 2022,” he says.
On IBHL plans to introduce other brands from the portfolio in India soon, Advani says, “Yes, there are a few line extensions in the pipeline. Rather than focus on new brands, we are planning to expand the range of offerings in India instead. Some of the exciting new launches include Blood Orange and Scottish Raspberry, two separate flavor extensions of Caorunn Gin, possibly a new line extension of Speyburn in duty-free and a few higher-aged expressions for Balblair and Old Pulteney.”
The alcohol industry is seeing a major shift in consumer behaviour and drinking patterns, especially among GenZ who have become more experimental and are ready to spend more. They are now interested in trading their routine drinks for over-the-top premium alcohol drinks. Sharing his views, Advani says, “Gen Z consumers around the world have shown us that they love to experiment and are eager to try out new things. They want to change the old and experiment with drinks and flavours too. This is something we are seeing in India as well. As a result, there is a clear increase in the demand for whisky from these comparatively younger consumers in India. In fact, cocktails based on premium whisky and gin are gaining significant traction in the main metros as well.”
At present, IBHL is a small player in the Indian market, partly by choice and partly due to the challenges of working in India, in terms of actual volume or share of entire whisky or gin segments. “Taking into context the specific channels and categories in which our portfolio is focussed, would be a fairer reflection of our share. For example, in travel retail, which is a focus area for us, we would easily be in the top 15 brands on the shelf. Similarly, in certain markets like Haryana, our brands have a significant presence and market share in the premium spirit categories they operate in,” he says, adding, “Given our specific portfolio, it is understandable that our brands are fairly limited in terms of volume, however this does have an added benefit i.e., our growth is well ahead of the category and the opportunity for us to grow our brands is tremendous.”
On how are the offerings from IBHL different from others in the market, Advani, who has considerable experience in the industry, says, “I think the two things that stand out for me with IBHL is consistency and quality. When I say consistency, I think IBHL is always recognised within the industry for delivering great ‘consistent value’ in the brands they offer. Various elements are involved in the whisky making process, starting from its place of origin to the type of barrel and mash bill used. Since we cater to a niche market of premium whiskey drinkers, we are particular about the consistency of the whole process. It is no surprise then that every year our whiskies and our gin, consistently win numerous prestigious awards; a testament to the commitment to the company’s commitment to maintaining the highest standards.”
He feels the other differentiating factor is the approach to their brands; one of quality over quantity. “IBHL has a very measured approach and a very clear understanding of their core values, both as an organisation as well as specific brand values. One such example of staying true to values is that of Balblair. With a brand that is so loved by whisky enthusiasts and with such a tremendous potential to grow, there is always the temptation to modernise and increase scale to meet the ever-growing demand. However, and this is one of the things I love about the brand, we understand that the time, the place, and the commitment to the craft are what make Balblair special. Any dilution of those values would stray from the ethos of the brand. Therefore, we remain committed to maintaining the same standards and the same time-honoured traditions of Balblair, despite the temptations of the ever-present opportunity for market share.”
On IBHL’s future plans and how he looks at the market in 2023, Advani says, “With increased globalisation and opportunities, an increase in disposable income and with various activities resuming post the pandemic, consumers are spending more on exclusive consumption, especially premium whisky, more than ever. We believe that an increase in single-malt whisky availability and whiskies experimenting with unique maturation techniques will have a positive effect on product consumption in the coming years. For us personally, with a higher awareness of our brands and a demand from consumers for greater engagement, there are plans to increase the visits of key representatives and brand ambassadors to India. We would love for each of our brands to continue to develop a deeper and more meaningful dialogue with our consumers. Another piece of that puzzle would also be availability, which is an area we plan to focus on by expanding our reach in other parts of the country and other specific channels. States like Goa and channels like Mumbai Duty Free are prime examples of this. Over and above, we are working toward expanding our portfolio of brands and range in due course.”