Aryan Khan & a devil-may-care bet on premium liquor

(L to R) Kartikeya Sharma, president - AB InBev; Leti Blagoeva; Aryan Khan; and Bunty Singh.
(L to R) Kartikeya Sharma, president - AB InBev; Leti Blagoeva; Aryan Khan; and Bunty Singh.


Aryan Khan has launched Slab Ventures, a Netherlands-based luxury lifestyle collective and tied up with the local arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, is making his foray into India’s lucrative but heavily regulated liquor industry, along with business partners Bunty Singh and Leti Blagoeva. The trio plans to initially launch a premium vodka brand and expand into the brown spirits market later.

Khan and his partners have launched Slab Ventures, a Netherlands-based luxury lifestyle collective which has tied up with the local arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), the world’s largest brewer, to distribute and market the product in India and global markets.

Slab Ventures will also launch more products across other premium consumer segments, including beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, apparel, and accessories, and conduct experiential events appealing to the country’s affluent consumers.

AB InBev India, which sells beer brands Budweiser and Corona, and Slab will also partner to retail more spirit brands, including whisky. In 2023, Slab will also take its vodka brand to other markets in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Khan, 25, said the business idea emerged after Singh, Khan and Blagoeva, all family friends-turned-business partners, met in Germany in 2018 and discussed the gap in India’s premium and luxury goods and services market.

“We thought there was a kind of a void in the current space. And when there’s a void, there’s an opportunity, and I think businesses are all about opportunity," Khan, who recently announced his directorial debut, said in an interview in Mumbai last week. Khan is a graduate of the University of Southern California.

“The thought was to kind of combine high quality, a youthful disruptive vision, and cool aesthetics, and bring it under one roof, and by doing that, appeal to the more mature, discerning consumers as well as the younger generation," he said.

Four years since spotting the opportunity in premium products, the trio has brought D’yavol, a premium vodka imported from Poland. D’yavol, which translates to devil, is available in Maharashtra at 5,000, as well as Goa at 4,000 and Karnataka at 6,500. The brand will soon be available in Delhi and top cities of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal and Telangana. It will compete with Bacardi’s Grey Goose and LVMH’s Belvedere.

India is one of the world’s fastest-growing alcoholic beverage markets, with an estimated market size of $52.5 billion as of 2020. According to ICRIER, a think-tank, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.8% between 2020 and 2023,

However, vodka remains a relatively small category in India. That’s because, historically, brown spirits such as whisky, brandy and dark rum have been major contributors to the overall alcoholic beverages market in India, cornering over 90% of all Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) volumes. White spirits such as vodka and gin, on the other hand, accounted for 3.6% of the total Indian-made foreign liquor volumes. The market for imported vodka is even smaller. However, the CAGR for imported vodka (2021-26) stands at 7.2%, while the ultra-premium segment is growing at 17.8%, according to estimates from industry body IWSR.

The liquor market in India is fast premiumizing, meaning consumers, in general, are trading up to better-tasting spirits. The move is also aligned with AB InBev’s global ‘Beyond Beer’ agenda that has seen the brewer expand into categories outside beer.

For AB InBev, the association with Slab Ventures is envisioned as a multi-category, multi-beverage approach, along with some adjacencies, said Kartikeya Sharma, president of India and South East Asia, AB InBev.

“The move is intended with a clear outlook on building a globally acceptable and globally present portfolio of brands. Of course, given India, and its size of spirits (market)—it is the second-largest market, but with a significant upside for premiumization opportunity," Sharma said.

D’yavol will be aggressively marketed across top-end bars and restaurants and 4,000 to 5,000 top-end liquor retail stores.

In 2021, AB InBev’s global Beyond Beer business grew by more than 20%, contributing $1.6 billion in revenue in FY21. In fact, it recently entered India’s hard spirits category with the launch of locally blended and bottled whisky under the Budweiser Magnum Double Barrel brand.

In India, Sharma said, the company’s aspiration is to get at least 5-7% of the company’s topline from the ‘Beyond Beer’ portfolio that includes zero-beer variants, white and brown spirits, as well as non-alcoholic beverages over three to four years.

Khan said the premise of Slab is to dabble into a “bunch of things" to cater to aspirational Indian consumers who are increasingly scouting for the latest sneaker “drops" while also being exposed to emerging trends globally.

“We have an apparel vertical coming out sometime early next year. It’s going to be brought to the consumer as a limited edition, capsule collection and made available through ‘drops’ on the web store," Khan, who was sporting a sweatshirt by Italian luxury label Off-White, said.

The apparel collection will hopefully hit the market by March-April next year.

“Everything that we’re going to be doing, whether it’s in the beverages vertical or any of the other verticals, apparel, accessories, it will all sit very squarely in the luxury segment. So, it’ll apply across all the spirits as well," Blagoeva, who earlier worked with a consulting firm, and across the pharmaceutical, automotive and fashion industries, said.

Catch all the Corporate news and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.