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NEW DELHI : After debuting the 12-year-old Yamazaki Japanese single malt whisky and premium Sipsmith London gin in India this year, Ruchika Gupta, marketing director, Beam Suntory India, is gearing up to introduce more flavours of the Jim Beam bourbon and “some great expressions", as she puts it, of distinct single malts such as Bowmore. In an interview, Gupta spoke about India’s march towards consuming premium liquor and the all-new trend of stocking for home bars. Edited excerpts: 

Compared to your competitors, Beam Suntory launched in India as late as 2019. How are you reaching out to this market?

You are right; we have come in later than our peers and we have done a lot to match up. We have almost doubled our workforce over the last two to three years, even during pandemic, we kept hiring. And even in a stressed year, our businesses were quite attractive. 

Unlike in CPG (consumer packaged goods) where your channel would be an estimated 15 million if you add up all the supermarkets, kirana stores, and everything that’s not e-commerce, the universe size for liquor is about 40,000 to 50,000 off trade, and about a similar number of on trade. Off trade is defined as the club space where you drink on the premise basically. So, it’s just about 100,000 outlets, a small percentage of what the larger universe will be, and then each account becomes a key account.  Our distribution is quite strong. We are available everywhere, depending on what our distribution strategy is. We do not want some of the luxury brands to be everywhere but brands like Teacher’s; I don’t think there’s any on-premise or off-premise shop in the country that does not have it. At the same time, there is a Yamazaki 12, which is only in the top star properties in the country. 

Are you introducing more brands?

We have a lot of mass and affordable brands in our portfolio; what we are choosing to bring into India are only premium because of what our numbers say. We just got Sipsmith, which started the craft revolution across the world. We are bringing in Jim Beam flavours. Bowmore 15 and 18 are coming in. We have more brands from the Suntory range that India should see.

Do Indians buy a luxury product like Yamazaki 12?

You will be surprised. Our constraint is for whisky, you need to do long-range planning. For a 12 year old, there’s no substitute. So, somebody should have put it in the cask in 2008. And whatever little liquid we have, in spite of being very selective in our distribution, we exhaust it in a month or so.

Has the buying experience for liquor in India changed?

Things have changed drastically. During the pandemic, when travel was restricted, aspiration wasn’t. In fact, that was increasing because you spent a lot more time online, getting aware. Taking a cue from that what the industry has done is, it’s created a duty-free like experience in Indian off trade in terms of how the stock is laid out and the kind of hostesses you have who can explain why a brand is special. This is not just in the top six metros; it’s penetrated even to tier-I and tier-II cities. 

Everyone is talking about the premiumization trend in liquor. Is it real?

We believe premiumization is not a fad, though it may look like that. People have home bars and they’re buying not just to consume but also to stock which is a new trend in India because you weren’t really stocking earlier. Now you started to stock in and that’s why the purchase is greater than consumption right now. A lot of it is being collected. Collection has become a huge trend stemming from premiumization. 

Was stocking driven by the pandemic?

A lot of stocks has been pulled during covid...There’s been a normalization of drinking at home. So, now you’re buying more because you’re also collecting.

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