From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, November 01, 2001


Whetting your whistle

Neha Kaushik

With the urban consumer more willing than ever to experiment with his glass of liquor, a larger number of premium foreign brands are making a beeline for the Indian market. Says a market analyst, "People are now trying new brands, so the basket of consumption of the Indian consumer has increased. And even the high duties have not been able to stop the Indian swish set from guzzling premium liquor.'' Given the scenario, many foreign brands are taking this opportunity for brand-building activities as well as introducing the customer to their brand before the duties become level. Also, with restrictions on advertising, an increasing number of these brands are creating awareness through appreciation/tasting programmes and event sponsorships.

The Scotland-based Highland Distillers, for instance, will make its products available through the retail route by customising the product's availability in different markets in accordance with the tastes of the people as well as the legal aspects. In fact, the company recently went retail for the first time in India by launching its Famous Grouse whisky in a 4.5 litre pack priced at Rs 12,000 in Chandigarh (mainly because of the large whisky-drinking population in the city). The company claims that the sales for the large-sized pack have been quite encouraging.

Meanwhile, Highland Distillers is further planning to hit the retail circuit in other cities as well. Says Dinesh Jain, Managing Director, India & Area Countries, Highland Distillers, ``We are targeting to enter the retail markets in the metros and other SEC A & B cities such as Pune, Bangalore and Goa.''

Apart from Famous Grouse, Highland currently has two other brands in India - Macallan and Highland Park. It also markets Drambuie Liquor in the country. However, the company is looking forward to launch new brands in the market. According to Jain, the new brands/products likely to be introduced into the Indian market are: Bunnahabhain, Tamdhu and Cointreau.

For promotions, the company has been conducting `Famous Parties' to promote its Famous Grouse whisky. ``The parties aim to associate with people from all walks of life who are famous or are on their way to becoming famous. They will be held at key metros and we are aiming to have five-ten such parties in a year,'' says Jain.

Meanwhile, Guinness-UDV, which has brands such as Johnnie Walker, J&B, Bailey's and Gordon's Gin, too recently decided to expand its retail network. After starting retail for its brands from Mumbai, Guinness-UDV now plans to roll out its brands in outlets all over the country. However, the biggest impediment remains the high duty structure. For instance, the Johnnie Walker pack which is available in the grey market for about Rs 1,700 - 2,000 is being retailed at Rs 3,500 after duty.

However, the company has no plans to introduce new brands, at least for now. Says Deepak Roy, President, South Asia, Russia & Baltics, Guinness-UDV, ``We will bring other brands from our portfolio when the tariffs come down and they are more affordable. We will, however, roll out the existing brands into other markets."

Meanwhile for now, the company's main focus seems to be on promoting Johnnie Walker. "We are certainly investing in Johnnie Walker ahead of sales and we have very ambitious advertising and promotion plans in place. The key feature of our Johnnie Walker programme is the Mentor Programme, where we educate customers on the heritage and superiority of the brand vis-a-vis other Scotches," says Roy. The company is also running a campaign on television featuring the famous footballer, Baggio.

On the other hand, companies such as Seagram and William Grant and Sons (with brands Glenfiddich and Grant's whisky in India) would rather wait for the duty rates to be lowered before taking the retail route. However, Seagram would be introducing new brands from its international portfolio (though not at the retail level immediately). According to Aditya Gooptu, Manager (Marketing) at Seagram Manufacturing Ltd, "The new brands to be launched include Royal Salute, Glenlivet, Martell Cognac and Chivas Regal."

The company has already been conducting brand-building activities for Chivas Regal through image-building events such as the Chivas Regal Polo Championship and the Chivas Regal Invitational Golf challenge for corporates.

On the other hand, William Grant & Sons, which has entered into a marketing alliance with Bacardi-Martini in India, has been promoting its product through tasting sessions and sponsorship of small-scale events.

Meanwhile, distribution company Brindco, which in a tie-up with various elite wine houses across the world, has already launched a large number of premium wines in India, plans to further expand its portfolio in the country. After recently launching Corona, a Mexican beer, in the Indian market, the company is planning to launch wines from South Africa, Chile and New Zealand, all in the price range of Rs 800 to Rs 2,000. In addition, Brindco will also launch a new range of liquor in the country. According to Aman Dhall, Executive Director, Brindco, "We are planning to introduce a new brand every month for the next six months. The market is maturing and even at the hotels, it is not the product with the lowest price but the product of more repute which sells." Brindco claims that response from the market has been very good till now and this is mainly because the company has been able to garner share from other players in the market.

Although the company is retailing its products at 30 outlets in Mumbai, it is not immediately planning to expand its retail network and would rather wait for the high duty levels to be brought down. Till that happens, the Indian retail market does remain somewhat surreal, where the consumer either has to cough up large amounts for a drink or end up on the wrong side of the law (considering about 90 per cent of sales come from the grey market).

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