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Beer brands raise a toast to the Strong Premium category

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Beer is the largest segment in the Indian alcohol market and strong beers corner the major chunk of this. Market estimates suggest that strong beers (with alcohol strength of between six and eight per cent) contribute about 80 per cent to the beer market and up to 70 per cent (by volume) of all the liquor sold in the country.

In this huge strong beer market, there exists a plethora of cheaper, strong beers like Thunderbolt, Haywards 5000, Knock Out, which by their name and imagery are based clearly on potency. Forming a cusp space between bang for buck and serious alcohol (in India synonymous with whisky), these are the go-to choice for the younger, about-to-enter-into-alcohol consumer as much as the price sensitive consumer.

The opportunity for strong premium beer
But in the recent times, beer marketers have spotted the opportunity for Strong Premium beers in the country. The premium end of the strong beer category has players like Kingfisher Red, Carlsberg Elephant, Budweiser Magnum, Tuborg Strong, Fosters Strong and Australian Max, among others, on a premium or super premium pricing. Some of these brands are available only in select markets but together they offer sizeable choice to the consumer looking for an easy-going alcohol choice but with potency.

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, Senior VP Marketing, UBL

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, Senior VP Marketing, UBL

Samar Singh Shekhawat, Senior VP, UB Group says, “In both strong and mild beer segments there is a creamy layer that has swarmed in last few years. In a mild beer there is a super premium mild beer segment swarming with Carlsberg, Budwiser and Heineken; while in the strong beer segment there are brands like Carlsberg Elephant, Budweiser Magnum etc. However the mild premium segment is growing much faster than the strong premium segment.”

Hic Hic Hurray
Marketers are of the view that there is a lot of opportunity by way of an ever expanding Indian palette that is looking for new & unique offerings in beer space. Kartikeya Sharma Marketing Head – India Operations (Global & Local Brand Portfolio) at Anheuser-Busch InBev says, “Budweiser Magnum gives us an opportunity to fulfill the need gap that is currently experienced in the high strength beer category. And this is by offering a uniquely smooth beer with a strong taste you can savour. We think the Indian consumer is beginning to feel the need for superior quality brews, and we sense that the timing is ripe for a super premium.”

Launched about two months ago Budweiser Magnum is a recent player in the Indian strong premium beer category with 6.5 per cent alcohol. The brand is focusing on the 4 major metros – Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad – which together account for 25 per cent of the beer drinkers in India.

In 2011, Carlsberg India launched Carlsberg Elephant to build upon its strategy of creating a super premium strong beer category in the market. The company its first steps in this direction with the introduction of Tuborg Strong in 2010.

India’s liquor King, Mallaya’s Kingfisher, too has presence in the strong premium beer space with Kingfisher Red, which is also an all season beer and offers the promise of good taste even at room temperature. However, Kingfisher Red is not as premium as Elephant or Magnum, it is priced about Rs five-10 higher than the usual strong beer Kingfisher Strong.

On the contrary, Carlsberg Elephant 650 ml bottle is priced at about Rs 100-125 (depending on the market), 40 per cent premium of Tuber Strong. Same size bottle of Budweiser Magnum costs about Rs 150.

Pegging it right
Some of these Premium (or super premium) strong beer brands are targeting young adults, while other brands are targeting more evolved consumers. Budweiser Magnum says that it is targeting young achievers who are ambitious and settle for nothing but the best. On the other hand, Carlsberg Elephant targets a more evolved consumer, that is, a social drinker, affluent, discerning and contemporary; one who appreciates refined things in life and seeks luxury experiences.

Soren Lauridsen, Managing Director, Carlsberg India said in a company statement, “Our product offers its consumers a choice to trade up in the strong beer category and yet retain the core attributes of one’s personality like strength of character, consistency, conviction and sophistication. With Carlsberg Elephant we are addressing a very potent section of the beer consuming TG that is willing to pay a premium for superior quality strong beer which fulfills a latent need for sophistication and new royalty”.

Alpana Parida

Alpana Parida, President, DY Works

Experts feel that targeting an evolved consumer is a much better idea for premium strong beers. Alpana Parida, President, DY Works argues, “Trying to get either mindsets (about to enter category or wallet conscious) to upgrade to a strong beer which is up to 30 per cent more expensive would be a doomed to fail task. On the other hand the older consumer, who due to prestige and status connotations has preferred marquee beer brands, when seeking a strong beer option really had no choice. He is willing to pay more, is looking for more than just bang and thus makes an ideal choice for the marketers to target.”

Additionally, this is also the consumer who till today has been drinking the regular or mild versions of the same marquee. Thus getting him to try and subsequently cross sell is much easier than going out there and convincing and new user to get on board!

Smooth journey or bumpy ride?
The journey for the premium and super premium strong beer brands is certainly not going to be an easy one. UB Group’s Shekhawat says, “The premium mild beer accounts for about 15-20 per cent of mild beer category. But premium strong beer is not growing at that rate and currently accounts for only 1-2 per cent of the strong beer category.” Shekhawat expects the premium strong beer’s share in the strong beer segment to go up to 10 per cent in the next five years, which he feels is quite good considering the large base of strong beer market.

Some experts also feel that the legal drinking age in India being higher than most countries and the restrictions on advertising is a challenge for the new brands. Ambika Sharma, MD & CEO, Pulp Strategy feels, “The Indian consumers also connect strongly to the brands positioning and the names of the brands seem to have a big role to play. In the case of brands like Knock Out, Haywards 5000, Thunderbolt and Godfather, the names speak for the appeal of these brands. Breaking the trend global names may need an extra moment to fit in.” In the same breath she also says that with Indian consumers fancy for brand names the global brands will find faster appreciation in urban India.

The opportunities lie in actually giving more meaning to the idea of strong beer along with a fine smooth taste. Experts feel that the premium strong beer space is waiting to be tapped by a brand who will understand the category and the consumer need and find the sweet spot between the two!

About the author / 

Abhinav Mohapatra

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