Bengaluru: It was Diageo Plc that helped build the vodka market in India with Smirnoff, but the brand that ran away with that market is homegrown Magic Moments, which now accounts for one of every two vodka bottles sold in the country. The popularity of this vodka brand from Radico Khaitan Ltd, not yet into its teens, has left a trail of other powerful labels—from White Mischief to Romanov—struggling in its wake.

Vodka sales volumes in India have shrunk over the past four years, as the country remains largely a whisky-drinking market. Still, Radico Khaitan expects sales volume of its Magic Moments brand to grow at an annual pace of 15-20% over the next two years. The brand’s double-digit volume growth over the past couple of years is in sharp contrast to the sluggish growth the wider alcoholic beverage market has witnessed for more than half a decade.

Radico managing director Abhishek Khaitan credits Magic Moments’s success to factors ranging from its aspirational launch price to doggedly targeting the younger segment of the population, and entering the flavoured segment rather early in the brand’s journey.

“Earlier, vodkas were all in the regular range. We priced our vodka much higher than the regular range. The younger generation and women don’t mind spending a little extra, but they want to associate with the right product," said Abhishek Khaitan, whose father Lalit Khaitan inherited the family-run firm.

In 2008, White Mischief and Romanov vodkas from United Spirits Ltd (USL), India’s biggest liquor firm and a unit of Diageo, were market leaders in the domestic, or locally bottled, value segment of the vodka market. This segment accounts for the biggest chunk in the vodka market and typically includes brands that cost between 175 and 999 for a 750ml bottle.

In sales volume terms, White Mischief was a 1.5 million case brand, while Romanov was a 1.22 million case brand in this segment in 2008, according to data from International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR).

Magic Moments was created only in 2006, but by 2017 its sales volume had multiplied nearly thrice to 2.44 million cases, even as those of White Mischief and Romanov shrank to less than half.

Success was clearer in the flavoured vodka segment.

It was Smirnoff that was leading the domestic value market for flavoured vodka in 2008, with volume sales of around 150,000 cases, IWSR data shows. In 2017, Magic Moments was a 1.32 million case brand in this segment, almost six times larger than Smirnoff Flavours.

The company invested around 100 crore on self-printing technology early on, so the Magic Moments branding could be directly etched onto the bottles. That also bumped up the brand’s aspirational quotient.

In 2008, Radico Khaitan launched six different flavours of Magic Moments, again taking its cue from the younger generation fond of trying new flavours.

The company continues to launch seasonal flavours and those targeting specific states to keep consumer interest going.

“If you go back a few years, until 2006, vodka was a mid-priced segment category in India and it was a pretty small segment. The entire vodka category was not more than 3 million cases," said Radico Khaitan’s chief operating officer, Amar Sinha. “Today, if it has grown to around 6 million cases, it is primarily due to flavours. It’s very clear that the target segment for vodka, which is the youth, today prefer flavours."

Diageo Plc-owned USL declined to comment on the decline in volume sales of White Mischief and Romanov, but said that Smirnoff was an integral part of the Diageo portfolio and that the British distiller would make significant investments to ensure the brand’s continued growth.

While most variants of Magic Moments are priced less than those of Smirnoff, it is now taking the battle closer to Smirnoff’s price segment.

A more premium variant of Radico Khaitan’s vodka, Magic Moments Verve, was launched this year. Verve will be cross-lined, that is, priced to compete with Smirnoff. Under the same brand umbrella, the company also launched a ready-to-drink product called Electra.

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