Manchester/London: The recently concluded Cricket World Cup in England and Wales may not have had the fairytale ending for the Indian team as millions of fans would have expected. However, for indigenous craft beer brand Bira 91, the recent tournament emerged as its biggest ever advertising platform as it forays into the UK market. Thanks to its five-year global sponsorship deal with the International Cricket Council (ICC), the beer brand looks to expand its global footprint with other upcoming fixtures.

In a country where advertising alcoholic beverages is banned, the B9 Beverages Pvt. Ltd-owned Bira 91 mostly relied on word-of-mouth promotion of its light, flavour-focused beer since its launch in 2015. After becoming a hit among India’s young urban consumers, the Delhi-based brand found itself pitted against the likes of Chhattisgarh-based Simba, Mumbai-based White Owl and Gurugram-based White Rhino, who have entered the niche market of craft beer over the past few years, offering their products at the same price point ( 110-155 for 330 ml pints) as Bira 91.

Despite the domestic market saturation, Bira 91 (the 91 referring to India’s international phone code) has not lost sight of its ambitions to “become the first global brand of craft beer." According to Bira 91 founder and CEO, Ankur Jain, the association with ICC has given the brand a much-needed push to engage with the Indian diaspora at large (both domestic and abroad).

Sponsoring the tournament ensured that the “Indian-at-heart" Bira 91 was the first modern craft beer that was served at traditional venues cricket grounds like the Oval or Lord’s. It has already launched two of its variants-- a repackaged Bira 91 Blonde lager and the wheat-based Bira 91 White ale--in the UK market with this year’s World Cup. Priced at £2.69 per 330 ml bottle, it is currently available for online purchase at beerhawk.co.uk, and is set to appear in local pubs and restaurants in the coming weeks.

Why join hands with ICC? “We feel both cricket and beer defines the Indian cultural identity. When you marry the two, it becomes a natural partnership," said Jain. “Both of these are undergoing a generational shift. We want to define what beer means for this generation of Indian consumers both in India and abroad," said Jain during the India-New Zealand semi final match in Manchester on 10 July.

Another vantage point for Bira 91 will be that it will also be the exclusive beer to be poured at all upcoming ICC events, including the T20 World Cup 2020 (men’s and women’s) in Australia, a market the brand is looking to become active in by next year. Apart from UK, Bira 91 has already forayed into the US (New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston), Singapore, Nepal, Dubai and Bahrain. It is planning to launch its products next in Vietnam in August, followed by Hong Kong and Australia, the company confirmed.

For the Australia launch next year, Jain said that women consumers would be a major target. “Beer consumption is being increasingly defined by females, who are willing to try light beer with fresh ingredients and taste. To that effect, the T20 women’s world cup in February-March is going to be an exciting platform where we may launch a couple of products exclusively for women," said Jain.

Despite its ouster from the tournament, India still remains the biggest market for cricket. Perhaps this is why the world cup this year saw 6 out of the 20 commercial partners of the ICC come from India---MRF Tyres, Bira 91, Royal Stag, digital fantasy sports platform Dream11, sports business firm Gaames and Britannia Industries. “Associating with a new and exciting brand such as Bira 91 is helping ICC connect with cricket fans all over the world," Campbell Jamieson, General Manager-Commerical, ICC told Mint. “This is an opportunity for both organizations to collaborate and achieve their common objectives which is to contribute to the growth of cricket and Bira 91 as a brand."

Ahead of its UK launch, Bira 91 ran a number of innovative promotional campaigns related to the world cup. Along with holding official screenings across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru. Pune and Hyderabad, the brand also saw an increased visual presence at the stadiums. The most notable of them was the Bira 91 "experiential" pop-up stores set up outside the match venues, which was thronged by NRI spectators-- one of its major targets in global markets.

It also ran aggressive campaigns focused on "experiencing" the world cup on social media a few weeks before the World Cup started, including organizing contests for consumers to win tickets for a match and get their pictures taken with the trophy. Bira 91 hired influencers to attend key matches and share their experience on social media handles. It is also banking on associations with UK artists of Indian origin to spread the word in a highly competitive market.

Bira 91 currently offers 7 variants--Bira White Lager, White Ale, Strong Ale, Blonde lager, Indian Pale Ale, Boom strong and Boom classic. The beer brand is planning to offer at least 8 new variants in India by the end of the year.

“We are currently attempting to ensure that the UK business is sustainable for us over a 10-year period even though the growth may be slightly lower," said Jain, adding that Bira 91 has ramped up its production capacities five-fold to 2 million cases per month from 350,000 barrels a month in the beginning of the year to meet targets. It currently operates three breweries in Indore, Nagpur and Kovvur and exports 7% of its production to active international markets. It is all set to launch a fourth brewery in Karnataka next month.

(The writer was in England at the invitation of Bira91)

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