Grin and ‘beer’ it
Beer is perceived as a youth drink, is a steady F&B revenue driver in the metro cities, and is becoming increasingly popular amongst women, finds Bindu Gopal Rao.
“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza,” said Dave Barry.
And it’s not just pizza that beer gels with. India is guzzling beer like never before and Just-drinks – a leading online resource company for the beverage industry – estimates that beer sales in India are forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.2% by 2011.
The Indian beer industry has seen a steady growth during the last decade, due to high disposable incomes and the entry of newer brands into the market. Beer is a great revenue-generating beverage, and is easy to serve, store, and account for. It is an essential tool for hotels to increase their beverage sales. “Since it is an easy drinking beverage a lot of people ask for it to start off the evening. Also, for quick lunches or meetings, a beer is ideally suited, which, in turn, helps us to make more money as well,” says Rohit Dasgupta, food and beverages manager, Zuri Bengaluru.
Says Julien Lloyd, assistant food and beverage manager, JW Marriott Mumbai: “Beer is most popular in big cities and metropolises, although the sale of ale is almost negligible compared to lager. Having said that, India has a lot of small towns and villages, which still look up to whisky as the only drink and are unaware of beer, thus, whisky remains the most consumed spirit in India.”
As the world’s oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage, and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea, beer is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches, mainly derived from cereal grains, however, says Rohit Bajpai, executive assistant manager, food and beverage, Hotel Royal Orchid, Bengaluru: “There is a lot of variety to beer like malt, rice, and wheat beers.”
Lager is the preferred beer in India, primarily because of its acquired taste. There are some basic differences between each beer brand available in the market in terms of alcohol content, taste, flavour, and aroma. “The difference is in the types of fermentation process.
Ale is known as a top fermenter and can ferment in a few days. It tends to have heavier body, more alcohol, a darker hue, and is cloudier than lagers. Stout beer is also a part of the ale family. Draught beer denotes beer brewed and stored in the traditional way, maturing naturally, and served unpasteurised from the cask rather than from a bottle or can,” says Rohit Mathur, director, Bond The Fun Bar & Complete Sports Management India.
Most of the pale coloured beers in the market are lagers that are served chilled. The alcoholic content of lager is also lower than most ale. Adds Sherman Almedia, restaurant operation manager, Renaissance Mumbai Hotel & Convention Centre: “Today, no brewer in India makes pale ale. All are either lagers (4.3% alcohol, such as Australian lager) or strong lagers. While ale is preferred by a select few, lager tends to dominate sales as well as consumption.”
The popularity of beer drinking in India is limited to different kinds of lager and a variation called pilsner.
“This is suited for our country since the majority of places have hot and humid months for some time of the year. Also, given the fact that ale is traditionally drunk at room temperature, the lager variations have found a preference with us Indians.
The gamut of countries in the Asia Pacific region varies from Singapore and Australia, to India, China, and Vietnam. Due to the influence of the Europeans in these areas and the similarity of the climate, most beer drinkers are lager patrons rather than of the warmer variant. The Oceania countries, namely, Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, and others, are known for producing lager beers.
Hence the preference to drinking lager comes from the fact as mentioned above, that is, due to climatic conditions, a chilled drink is more favourable to the locals,” says Dasgupta.
“Beer in India is predominantly lager based. Ale is a new concept for Indians, but with international travel and greater exposure, we Indians are now familiar with ales as well. Nilarya was one of the first companies to introduce ale in south India. Much as we are a lager country and a strong beer market, ales are slowly catching up. Yes, it is still in its nascent stages in India; yet, a small market is slowly but surely developing,” opines Manisha Vinod, head of marketing, Nilarya Gourmet Beers.
Says Dasgupta: “A fast growing demand for ale is starting in India and a very famous brand – Guinness – is becoming increasingly popular with pub goers and beer drinkers. Although it has a peculiar taste and has a very creamy head due to nitrogen being infused while pouring, it is a great beer to drink. With the fast growing popularity we already see a couple of ale draught beer pubs in the country.”
The Indian beer market is different from any other world market. “The taste, quality, selection, and availability, are all very limited. The Indian markets mainly run on bottled and canned beers. Beer is actually a very refreshing drink, as opposed to its image as a purely alcoholic beverage,” says Rakesh Gadoo, business head – restaurants, Jawad Business Group.
“Beer consumption in India remains at around one litre per person per year, while in comparable developing markets it stands at around 20 litres,” says Mathur.
A deep-seated social aversion to alcohol consumption has been a traditional feature of Indian society. However, as urban consumers have become more exposed to western lifestyles through overseas travel and the media, their attitude towards alcohol is relaxing.
“Also, social habits are undergoing a transformation as mixed drinks are becoming more popular. That’s why even at Bond we have something called as a Beer Carnival,” says Mathur.
The greatest evidence of this trend is the increase in beer consumption among women, with penetration in metropolitan areas almost twice as high as in other large cities – implying a greater tolerance towards alcohol consumption in metro cities. Beer sales in India are driven by availability, affordability, and awareness.
Adds Puran Miya, assistant manager, food and beverage, Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi: “Beer consumption patterns in India have taken a big leap in the last couple of years, wherein world renowned brands like Carlsberg, Tiger, Budweiser, Touberg, and so on, have started being bottled in India.
The beer industry is surely going to be the biggest player in the liquor market, with a big impetus through local and international players. Although the UB Group, through its flagship brand Kingfisher, is still a market leader in beers, the advent of Indian bottled international brands is expected to acquire a fair share in the Indian beer market in the next couple of years.”
With 60% of the Indian population being below 30 years of age, and beer being perceived as a youth drink, a large chunk of international brewers are looking at capturing a share of the market. Consumption of beer in India has been on the rise also due to launches by brewers like SAB Miller and UB. In fact, a lot is happening in terms of new launches and concepts. Like for instance, Rockman’s Beer Island at Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, is the first micro pub brewery in India with expertise and products from Bavaria in Germany. This is a place where you can witness the process of beer making and have the pleasure of drinking the highest quality Bavarian beer free of chemicals, preservatives, pasteurisation and filtration process.
Beer in India is categorised into mild/diet beer (5-8% alcohol), lager beer (8-13%), strong beer (13-14%) and draught beer, as fresh keg beer. “The strong beer market has been growing at over 15%, while that of lager beer has been sluggish at 5-6%. This has prompted the launch of many new brands in the strong-beer segment. Draught beer is popular mostly in cities such as Bengaluru and Mumbai. The margins are also higher on draught beer, since there are no bottle costs involved. However, with a limited shelf life, draught beer volumes are limited, and proximity to a large market is essential,” says Mathur.
Nilarya launched four new American Microbrews from two award winning breweries – Flying Dog and Rogue; Flying Dog just won the best brewery award at the 2009 Great American Beer Fest, in September 2009.
The industry was hit badly in March 2009 by an additional duty of 100% on declared price by the Karnataka State Government on imported beer. “Beer can gain a lot more popularity and capture the Indian alcohol market. This might require some relaxation and changes in the regulations, policies, licensing, and suchlike, to increase the availability in places like sports venues and cinemas,” concludes Gadoo.