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NEW DELHI: B9 Beverages, that makes the Bira 91 brand of beer in India, is set to launch a slew of new beers in the market apart from the re-launch of some of its existing variants, as competition in the craft brews space picks pace.

Some of the launches planned last year were delayed due to covid-19 led disruptions.

As part of the new launches, the company will release limited edition batches of its beers brewed at its Limited Release Taproom that opened up in Bengaluru last year.

The taproom works as a physical set-up where the company experiments with new beers every week such as—New England IPA, Farmhhouse Ale, Raspberry Sour (ale), to name a few. A few of these, which find favour with consumers, will be rolled out in select markets in packaged formats later this year.

“We will launch more products this fiscal than we did in the last three-to-four years combined. There is a very strong product innovation pipeline that we have, and this is just not just Taproom but in actual cans and bottles for wider distribution," said Ankur Jain, founder and CEO, B9 Beverages Pvt Ltd.

“We would have actually done this last year had covid not happened but got delayed by a year and we are therefore combining this and last year’s launches," he said.

The new launches, said Jain, will be widely different from what it already retails in the market, he said, "in terms of products innovation, ABV (alcohol by volume) diversity and diversity of ingredients."

More recently, it refreshed two of its beers—Bira 91 Light and the Bira 91 Strong, now Bira 91 Gold. “It (Bira 91 Gold) is our biggest launch ever—bigger than Bira Boom.…We have also refreshed and reformulated Bira 91 Light and lowered the calorie count on the beer," he said.

For B9, strong beers, which form the belly of the beer market in India, account for over 55-60% of its volumes.

Bira 91 beers have found resonance among India’s younger tipplers. However, India’s beer market is dominated by United Breweries that sells Kingfisher brand of beer, apart top global beer makers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Carlsberg.

Even though beer accounts for about 12% of alcohol consumed in India, young, urban consumers are experimenting with new beers and flavours.

Companies are also capitalising on the trend.

In 2019, United Breweries Limited rolled out its first non-lager speciality beer Ultra Witbier under its flagship Kingfisher brand. More recent entrants in the beer market are Simba, White Owl, Kati Patang, Eight Finger Eddie, White Rhino, among others. Last year, AB InBev and India Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) opened their first brewpub, 7Rivers Brewpub, with an onsite microbrewery, at the Taj–MG Road, Bengaluru.

Last year saw a significant drop in beer volumes. India's largest beer maker, United Breweries, reported a 77% drop in volumes in Q1FY21. A fresh set of curfews could derail recovery, especially as bars and restaurants work under restrictions.

Jain, however, said consumers have turned more experimental and are seeking variety especially as they move consumption indoors.

For the year ended March 2019, the company reported total revenue of Rs188.3 crore, according to data sourced from Tofler. Losses stood at Rs135 crore.

Last year, it expanded its reach to 21 states and union territories in the country. “We will be adding three to four more states in the upcoming quarter," he said. At the end of 2019—Bira’s beer were available in 15-16 states. “We now have over 500 towns and cities in the country. And present in 25,000 to 27,000 outlets," he said.

Analysts tracking the sector, however, said such beers are too niche for a mass-market like India. "Craft beers are still very niche and cannot get the scale that and work well for promoting a beer culture. Plus, the price points vary too," said Karan Taurani at Elara Securities. "Even the larger players are chasing the premium category, but the numbers show it is a small portfolio of the market."

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