Stronger is better: brewers tap India thirst for potent beer

By Aradhana Aravindan and Nandita Bose

MUMBAI (Reuters) - With up to 8 percent alcohol, Carlsberg's Tuborg Booster Strong packs a heavier punch than the Danish original and is sold only in India, where consumers in the world's third-fastest growing beer market prefer an extra kick.

Billed as the world's first fruit-flavoured strong beer in its May launch, Tuborg Booster Strong is one of several potent brews that Carlsberg and rivals SABMiller , Anheuser-Busch Inbev and United Breweries are rolling out to make inroads in a market dominated by whisky.

Strong beer, with alcohol content of 5-8 percent, accounted for 83 percent of all beer sold in India last year, according to research firm Mintel, a figure industry players say is the biggest strong beer share of any major market. Brewers expect that to grow to 90 percent over the next three to five years.

Mintel expects India's retail beer market, worth more than 200 billion rupees last year, to more than double by 2017 to 430 billion rupees, with volume growing 36 percent.

"Indian consumers are looking for choices away from whisky and need products that not only give them more bang for their buck, but also have a macho image," said Subodh Marwah, Carlsberg India's marketing director.

Alcohol content and price are important considerations in India, where incomes average just $1,000 per year and high state taxes make beer more expensive than whisky by alcohol volume.

For 100 rupees, or under $2, a consumer can buy 180 ml of 40 percent local whisky, which works out to about 1.3 rupees per ml of alcohol, said Samar Singh Shekhawat, senior vice president of marketing at United Breweries. The same amount will buy a 650 ml bottle of strong beer, but because of the lower alcohol levels, consumers pay over twice as much per ml.

"The reason for alcohol consumption in India is basically to get buzzed," Shekhawat said. "For us and for anyone, the focus has to be the strong category because this, unlike mild beer, sells right down the economic strata."

A masculine image is also key.

Only a third of India's 1.1 billion population drink regularly and most are men, which explains names like SABMiller's Knock Out and United Breweries' Bullet.

Last year, Anheuser-Busch Inbev launched its Budweiser Magnum, an India-only offering with 6.5 percent alcohol. Kingfisher Strong, with 8 percent alcohol and made by United Breweries, is India's best-selling beer.

Such beers are meant to appeal to customers like 34-year-old courier Raghunandan, who was sipping rum at a dingy Mumbai bar.

"Beer just doesn't do it for me," he said, asking to be identified by one name. "It's expensive, plus I don't feel like I had anything to drink."

MARKET POTENTIAL

Two-thirds of Indians don't drink alcohol at all, often for religious or cultural reasons, but rapid urbanisation, a young population and a fast-growing middle class are changing alcohol consumption habits, making India an attractive market for drinks companies.

Besides competing with whisky, strong beer is also trying to attract customers who normally drink so-called country liquor, a cheap tipple prevalent in villages.

Beer accounts for just 5 percent of alcohol consumed by volume in India, according to SABMiller. Per capita beer consumption averages 1.7 litres a year compared with 74 litres in the United States, according to United Breweries.

Overall alcoholic beverage sales in India are forecast by Euromonitor to rise up to 8 percent a year by volume through 2017.

This potential is especially attractive to global brewers looking to offset sluggish growth in their traditional strongholds of North America and Europe.

Carlsberg expects India to become one of the world's top 10 beer markets in the next five to seven years. And SABMiller saw double-digit volume growth in its strong beer portfolio last year, India marketing director Darioush Afzali said.

Beer appears to be gaining a cool cachet among India's more urbanised youth, boding well for brewers' plans.

On a recent night at a bar in the Bandra neighbourhood of Mumbai, beer, both regular and strong, was the drink of choice for a group of young men on a night out. None drank spirits.

"Whisky is what older men drink. We love our beer and the stronger it is the better," said Anuj Chand, a 23-year-old aspiring interior designer.

(Editing by Emily Kaiser, Miral Fahmy and Tony Munroe)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Bangalore vs Mumbai

On Now: Bangalore vs Mumbai

Bangalore elect to field against Mumbai at Dubai. More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

[REWIND] The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

It's getting increasingly tough for bowlers: Ajmal

It's getting increasingly tough for bowlers: Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

Moores set for England recall

Moores set for England recall

The 51-year-old will succeed Andy Flower, who stepped down after five years in charge following the 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia in January. More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »