Spearheaded by its flagship brand Kingfisher, United Breweries (UBL) continues to dominate India’s beer market with more than 50 per cent market share. Samar Singh Sheikhawat, senior VP marketing, UBL talks about its success mantra and the future of the beer industry in the country By Rituparna Chatterjee
‘We never react to competition – rather we welcome it. We react to consumers,” strongly voices Samar Singh Sheikhawat, senior vice president, marketing, United Breweries (UBL) as he talks about the success of UBL and its flagship brand Kingfisher in the Indian beer industry. The mantra behind this company’s success has been its constant focus on understanding and catering to the evolving needs and demands of the consumers. He adds, “If the consumers are behaving in a particular fashion that is addressed by our current product portfolio, then we reinforce the same. But if we begin to see newer consumption trends and if our product portfolio cannot address those demands then we look at new product development.”
UBL’s association with brewing dates back to 1915, when the company started operations with five breweries in South India. Today UBL is one of the leading beer companies in India and boasts of a diverse product portfolio comprising several brands including Kingfisher Premium, Kingfisher Strong, Kingfisher Strong Fresh, Kingfisher Draught, Kingfisher Ultra, Kingfisher Blue, Kingfisher Red, Kingfisher Bohemia, Zingaro, UB Export, UB Export Strong, London Pilsner Premium Strong, Kalyani Black Label Strong, Bullet among others. “If there are consumers looking for something different then we ideally try and come up with product categories within our portfolio. It is far easy to retain existing customers than get new ones, which is why we launched Kingfisher Ultra, a more premium tasting super mild beer, which is our second fastest growing beer brand. Moreover, we also launched Kingfisher Ultra Max, a strong version of Kingfisher Ultra for the discerning consumer who is willing to pay a little more for the finest strong beer experience,” he says. The other fastest growing beer brand is Heineken, which UBL launched five years ago in the India market.
The Indian beer market is flooded with several domestic and international beer brands be it King’s, Corona, Foster’s, Carlsberg, Budweiser, among others. Despite that, UBL has been enjoying a market share of more than 50 per cent. “Our market share has remained steady for the past five years since there has been no change in the total number of consumers or total consumption of our brand. Though some consumers may have dropped out but equally new consumers have kept coming in. This dynamic state exists all the time,” explains Sheikhawat.
Although the Indian alcohol industry has been dominated by stronger spirits, over the years beer has made a mark in the industry and has been able to make its presence felt. “However, the growth of the beer market in the past five years has rather come down, from double digits to a single digit. This year the industry has been flat. The primary reason being that different states have different rules and taxation structures. Moreover, beer has a more expensive alcoholic delivery mechanism than spirits. Since beer has become expensive the growth rates have also slowed down,” explains Sheikhawat. However, going ahead, there is optimism in the market considering there are several enablers for beer. “Firstly, we are a hot country and beer goes well in a country like ours. Secondly, we have the world’s largest youth population i.e. 600-700 million of the population are below the age of 30. Thirdly, it is increasingly becoming socially acceptable to drink,” he mentions.
On the basis of alcohol content, beer in India can be categorised into strong and mild. Strong beer, which has alcohol content between six and eight per cent, dominates the beer market with 85 per cent share while mild beer constitutes 15 per cent. Sheikhawat opines, “We have seen the growth of the super premium mild beer segment under the mild beer segment. From a zero per cent six-seven years ago, the super premium mild beer segment has grown to comprise about 20 per cent of the mild beer segment and it is growing double digits. While on the strong beer side, we are seeing the growth of the super premium strong beer segment. Though it constitutes only about five per cent, it is growing double digits as well.”
When asked about the future of this industry, he predicts, “In the next five–six years the local beer brands will start losing consumers since they haven’t developed as brands and they operate more on price point and availability perspective.”