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NEW DELHI : Neeti Biyani, a public policy advocate, was never a gin drinker. But in mid-2020, at a small at-home gathering in Delhi, Biyani tried her first berry-infused gin cocktail and has never looked back. Biyani now counts herself among gin enthusiasts who enjoy the drink even at home, as intermittent covid lockdowns restrict bar operations.

Biyani now looks up recipes for gin-based cocktails. Her bar cabinet stocks both Indian and foreign brands such as Greater Than, Tanqueray and Stranger & Sons.

Soon, she will have a wider assortment to choose from as Pernod Ricard plans to launch its premium Malfy and Japanese Ki No Bi gin brands in India. In addition, Beam Suntory is bringing its premium Sipsmith London gin to India and has expanded the distribution of its Roku gin. Several other craft gin brands are also in the pipeline, people working closely with spirit companies said.

The premium brands are eyeing India as companies spot considerable consumer appetite for alcoholic beverages. Consumer interest in the drink was piqued with the launch of a raft of craft gins and aggressive promotion via curated experiential events such as Gin Explorer’s Club and Gin Sling.

While the pandemic eroded India’s overall gin volumes in 2020 by more than 50%, premium gins posted volume growth of 16.9%, shows data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, which provides data on the global alcoholic beverages market. IWSR forecasts premium gin to grow at 11.1% annually till 2025. Gins priced above 3,000 are considered premium by IWSR.

Diageo India, which sells Tanqueray and Gordon’s gin, is also exploring bringing in flavoured variants of both brands. “The category did continue with double-digit growth in FY21, but not at the levels seen previously. We are, however, seeing the same level of growth coming back," said Abhishek Shahabadi, vice-president and portfolio head for luxury and premium brands, Diageo India.

The company picked early cues from a shift to in-home alcohol consumption and stepped up marketing initiatives enabling consumers to replicate experiences at home, he said.

Although India is predominantly whisky-drinking, as upmarket, urban consumers look at newer forms of social engagement, experiences built around various alcoholic beverages have found favour. Gin, for instance, typically appeals to consumers aged 21-45 years.

Anand Virmani, co-founder and CEO of Nao Spirits and Beverages that sells Hapusa and Greater Than gins, said the tipping point for gin consumption in India was 2019 when a slew of events centred around experiencing gin at venues popped up in Bengaluru and Delhi. “That drove excitement and engagement," he said.

The pandemic led to a significant shift in the consumption of gin at home. “It’s good that people were already getting accustomed to having gin when they went out to a bar; that’s really helped translate to a situation where they can sit at home and enjoy a cocktail," Virmani said.

“The popularity of gin is a global phenomenon with experimentation going through the roof," said Kartik Mohindra, chief marketing officer, Pernod Ricard India, which sells Beefeater and Monkey 47 gins. “There have also been a few craft gins of local origin that have come about," he added.

Yet, companies are waiting for consumers to return to bars as the pandemic abates.

Rishi Walli, senior commercial director of Beam Suntory India, said gin has emerged as one of the most exciting categories in recent times, and the buoyancy is here to stay. “As consumers return to bars, a hybrid model is set to emerge as at-home consumption continues to stay relevant. This is set to benefit gin brands," he said.

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