It’s 2019, and the Indian liquor industry has never seen better days. Across the sub-continent, new homegrown alcohol brands are being brewed, distilled, and beyond, by a new generation of Indian vintners, brewers, and distillers.
Meanwhile, something else is brewing in a foreign land, where in a sniffle becomes a sneeze that becomes a pandemic, and suddenly all these brave new brands, relying on a burgeoning Indian economy, and an increasing millennial demographic with disposable income, have been gutted. "Everything changed overnight," muses Rohan Khare, founder of Bad Monkey Beer.
“With in-shop branding not possible and on-trade (bars) closed, we pushed ourselves to interact with consumers totally through the digital medium. The events, offline campaigns, tasting sessions etc were all replaced by online interactions, contests and feedbacks last year in the lockdown and subsequent opening," he says.
"Now, 100 per cent of consumer interaction is through digital channels, and this may go down once the world is COVID-free as consumers head back to their favourite bar or buy from the local retail outlet. Digital platforms have helped us reach a wider audience who may not have seen us at a sponsored event or a campaign, but now can be touched digitally, even during their WFH," he adds.
Chiming in is Shifa Rastogi, Brand Manager of Kimaya Himlayan Beverages that owns brands like BeeYoung and Yavira beers, who observes, "With the help of various integrated campaigns, we get a chance to connect with consumers through various contests, captivating campaigns, and user-generated content on our social media platforms."
It's not just manufacturers and retailers. Any restaurant worth its salt draws a huge part of its profits through the sale of alcoholic beverages.
With dine-in being shuttered across most of the country, restaurants have to switch to providing mixers sans the actual alcohol for orders, in what is possibly the most depressing BYOB ever. And still it works, largely due to the efforts of these nascent brands.
"We run campaigns such as cocktail-making sessions with your favourite influencer, movies/playlist recommendations for people to enjoy during the lockdown at the safety of their home. These have helped us garner the love and support of our audience," notes Rastogi, adding, "The Indian audience is opening up to more complex flavours in the craft beer market rather than succumbing to the age-old, traditional flavours and it is ever-evolving, hence we try to be as relevant as possible with our enhanced offerings."
And it’s not just the alcohol brands. Due to the flourishing of gin in India, the liquor’s accoutrements saw a flowering, as bespoke tonic water replaced commercial soda water in plastic receptacles. A new market leader is Svami Drinks, which provides sparkling tonic water across most of the country.
"We make several efforts to help customers make better quality drinks, bar quality drinks at home with very simple tweaks that make all the difference. This home drinking 101 is included in all orders from our website. We further have Zoom calls on Fridays for customers to interact with our brand ambassador who guides them to make better drinks at home with simple ingredients," shares Aneesh Bhasin, co-founder of Svami Drinks,
He adds, "We have also done online quizzes such as the Gin Drinker Of The Year on gin day with participants getting some insider information from gin distillers and winners walking away with gins and a year’s supply of Svami products. We engaged with the bar community as well, and we are the first company in the alcoholic and beverage space to provide cash relief to the tune of Rs 8L via a competition called Superlative Cocktail League."
It's not just a liquor thing. Thirsty Fox, a craft apple cider that entered the market in 2019, and had to contend with the first lockdown during its infancy is taking no more chances. "Unfortunately, what is different this time around with the pandemic is the severity and scale of suffering that we have been witness to all around us. As a responsible corporate citizen, it is important for us to take into account the current mood and sentiment of the markets," says Siddharth Sheth, Founder of Thirsty Fox.
"Given the ferocity of the second wave of the pandemic, we have shelved quite a few consumer facing programmes, campaigns and even launches. We hope to be able to pick up where we left off, as soon as possible, once the mood and sentiment in the country improves and consumers are more receptive to marketing campaigns," he adds.