Spirited Summer

Spirited Summer

The big brands focus on India

Production | 17 Jul 2015 | Issue 129 | By Sandeep Arora

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For worshippers of whisky in India, the next few months promise indulgence, adventure and discovery. Quite a few new whiskies, are due to debut in India and some existing ones, which were quiet for a while, will stir up the action for the 'share of the throat' for many Indian consumers.

The last few years have seen whisky brands take a back seat due to several reasons. From distribution issues and delay in imports, to compliance in new food safety requirements, brands were too busy meeting the basics. They were not really wooing customers and consumers. Mass media advertising in any case is not an option in India. All was quiet on the 'Whisky Front,' with only Diageo and Pernod Ricard representing the whisky outreach in India. India was largely the land of the 'Glens'…

The recent proliferation and sophistication in retail in India has ensured a higher take-up of whisky in the domestic market. Whisky and other premium spirits can now be bought from high-end retail outlets including The Cellar and House of Spirits. Over the last ten years, retail has transformed the customer experience. Once seedy shops selling spirits from behind steel bars, they are now sophisticated stores with trained store guides to assist the customer. Things have come a long way for the overall retail experience.

The Indian whisky market is increasing with popular, premium and imported spirits accounting for over 290 million cases of whisky every year. Eight Indian whiskies feature in the 'Top Ten' brands globally. That's a significant observation given the fact that there is poor customer access, no mass media advertising allowed and there are only 65,000 licensed outlets in the country. That's one retail outlet per 18,000 people and 76 times lower than the global average.

Taxes vary across states, leading to variance in prices as well. Whilst New Delhi offers a base price, Mumbai will be 40-60 per cent higher, since local taxes are higher. The Scotch Whisky Association is lobbying for whisky to be brought under GST (General Sales Tax), which will bring it to parity with other products. Indian made whisky is estimated to be selling at six times the ex-works distillery price.

According to The Economic Times, India's best read business newspaper, Allied Blenders and Distillers (ABD), which makes Officer's Choice, the world's biggest selling whisky, made sales of 28.4 million cases of whisky. They paid taxes, including excise and service tax, of around £660 million for year ending March 2015. It is estimated that 15 - 20 per cent of taxes collected by Indian states is related to alcohol sales.

Having said that, whisky sales are growing significantly. Leading bars in hotels and stand alone lounges can offer over 150 whisky brands. Customers can also buy whisky from Duty Free shops, retail, malls, hotels, clubs and bars.

The whisky range on offer includes blends, single malt Scotch whisky, Japanese, Irish, Bourbons and select world whiskies. Rare whiskies and vintages with an age of over 30 Years Old are also available, though most are on allocation. For instance Laphroaig will sell almost 1,000 cases, while Glenfiddich 40 Years Old will settle for just 20 bottles a year.

The romance of whisky is also having an impact on younger customers. This audience is taking a strong liking to single malts and buying these either in India or for exclusive labels, from Global Travel Retail, across the world.

Some of the Best selling Whisky in India

Johnnie Walker

Black Label


18 Years Old

Teacher's Highland Cream

The Glenlivet


10 Years Old


16 Years Old

Jack Daniel's


10 Years Old


Jim Beam

Come July 2015 and things are looking to get busier and better!

Diageo is all set to showcase Singleton as a showstopper. With Talisker and Lagavulin on allocation and firmly placed across bars and homes in India, Diageo will want to focus on other brands as well. Singleton, seems to fit well in this gameplan and in August the brand will lead with new initiatives across the country. Singleton variants including 12 Years old, 15 Years Old and 18 Years Old may lead the Singleton voyage. The brand has been well received in India, with 15 Years Old being a popular variant and the tag line of 'You Decide,' ensuring that more new consumers to the world of single malts, are embracing the brand. Singleton may go for the same customers who enjoy lighter softer whiskies including The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.

The Glenlivet, on the back of excellent distribution, consistent market-outreach and high decibel of brand experiences has risen to the top in India, as the largest selling single malt brand in the country. Over the last few years, The Glenlivet has made giant strides, across all key channels including on-trade, retail and Global Tax Free. The confluence of placement and distribution and high standard marketing has ensured the pole position in India. Over the last year, it was quite common to find The Glenlivet in many social engagements as well as perched high on home bars. Over the next few months the company will focus more on a larger footprint and higher aged variants.

Pernod Ricard is also raising the bar with the focus on Ballantine's Finest. The new campaign with Ballantine's is greeting consumers across shopping malls, hubs and bars. The sleek campaign seems to be meeting with success as young Indians are enjoying it more and more. Though the ace in Pernod Ricard's stable is Jameson, which has grabbed a lot of attention in the southern part of the country and is increasing the footprint to other parts of India. Mentoring and sampling are building the brand. Aberlour 12 Years Old, 16 Years Old and 18 Years Old are being discussed with preferences being notched on which variant is most amazing. With the holiday season having set in, leading to more travel, it is expected that more and more Aberlour will adorn home bars, since it is currently only placed in Global Travel Retail. The other Pernod Ricard brand Royal Salute 21 Years Old will address high end 'power' customers, with specialised tastings in September to December 2015.

In September, Beam Suntory will concentrate full force on Teacher's. The brand enjoys market leadership in the Scotch whisky category, clocking 500,000 cases and is back with a vengeance. It has been quiet for the last two years due to internal adjustments but now promises to break all growth barriers. A new campaign with 'Acheivement and Excellence' at the core of it is being launched in July 2015.

Keeping in view the legal issues on mass media advertising, companies use various methods including music, water, glasses, destinations and soda water to advertise their brands. Shop front areas are also used quite abundantly. In case of premium brands, appreciation evenings showcase the finer nuances of these brands. Whisky paired menus, and whisky and tapas trails directly engage the customer. Visits by Global Brand Ambassadors are increasing as market activity picks ups.

Beam Suntory will launch its 'Whiskies of the World' in August, although it has already captured many retail shop fronts. With Maker's Mark, Laphroaig and Canadian Club forming the core and Cooley and Yamazaki joining in later this year, 'Whiskies of the World' will eventually showcase whiskies from the USA, UK, Canada, Ireland and Japan. Beam Suntory will also look at Bowmore and Auchentoshan in January 2016.

William Grant & Sons is relaunching Glenfiddich more aggressively to gain lost ground to The Glenlivet. Glenfiddich was unavailable in most bars in the last year, as the company was busy settling internal stakeholders and new associations. They may also look at Monkey Shoulder in July to August 2015. As per industry opinion makers, Monkey Shoulder will be launched in phases across India. Even The Balvenie is expected to woo the refined palates of Indian consumers.

There is more action also on the Indian whisky home front, with Amrut selling into three more states in India, Paul John going ahead with more pan India approach and Diageo's United Spirits, unveiling new plans for Black Dog and VAT 69.

Bacardi Martini may also re-focus on Dewar's and Aberfeldy, with the latter finding a place in good bars in India. Interestingly, the whisky that is expected to make a huge difference in India will be Jim Beam. Capitalising on the positive image of 'American lifestyle', it has already surpassed Jack Daniel's in sales. Bottled in India, it ensures better access at a more competitive price.

I hope Evian, Perrier, Bisleri, Kinley and Himalayan are reading this feature as a lot of water will be needed in India to enjoy these whiskies

Here's to the industry doing well again in the world's largest whisky market.
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