Stronger is better: brewers tap India thirst for potent beer

Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:24am EDT
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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 ($3 billion) 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."   Continued...

A bartender pours Haywards 5000 strong beer, a product of SABMiller, into a glass at a restaurant in Mumbai August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui