Craft beer has become the latest trend to hit the Indian drinking scenes. With the Indian beer industry set to grow, Anuj Kushwah, brings to India, Witlinger, India’s first craft beer brand. Witlinger sets itself apart by presenting a tangy and fruity taste in the original ale and wheat combination.
Mr. Kushwah took some time out of his busy schedule and had a candid chat with The Restaurant Times by POSist, where he shared his insights about the current Indian beer industry, future predictions, and shed light on the relatively new concept of craft beer. Edited excerpts…
POSist: What prompted you to get into the beer business? Please share your story.
Anuj: After a successful stint in a financial consulting firm in London, I returned to India in 2004. I had developed a great taste of authentic craft beer during my stay in the UK and was looking for the same in India. While Indian market was loaded with many beer brands, the market was lacking on authentic taste and innovation. Inspired by the promising startup ecosystem in the country, I established Kama Impex Pvt. Ltd in India in Jan 2010 and launched India’s first crafted beer, Witlinger in April 2014. The beer caught the taste of consumers, as they were ready to experience the honest and real craft beer taste of Witlinger. Today, the brand has become a recognized name in major beer cafes and beer lovers are getting hooked to the taste of Witlinger beer.
POSist: What were the initial challenges that you faced while bringing Witlinger to India, and how did you overcome them?
Anuj: Introducing the brand into the market has been the only and utmost challenge as the distribution of liquor is a state-wise affair. Different state wise policy of distribution and sales is somehow hampering the alco-beverage industry growth. Consumer demand for good quality beer is going to help in changing the perception and market policies. As a brand, we are still in early stages before we see any major changes.
From raising investments, business expansion, and catering to customers, how has the journey been so far?
Anuj: The journey has been so exciting, as the brand has significantly achieved a great success by offering real, honest, and premium craft beer experience at an attractive price to Indian beer lovers. With significant growth in beer consumption by Indian consumers, Witlinger has garnered its own fan following due to its unique style and taste. Witlinger shares a good brand story in its key markets i.e. Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Goa. We have recently introduced two variants in bottles i.e, Witlinger Wheat Ale and Witlinger Lager in Delhi and Mumbai market respectively.
Apart from some metros, do you think the Indian audience is ready for this new culture of craft brewery? Do you see the market further growing in India?
Anuj: India per capita beer consumption is close to 1.4 liters annually, which is very low when compared to world’s average of 65 liters annually. Reports suggest that India will be one of the biggest beer markets in coming years. The market will take a big leap in terms of business growth with the changing lifestyle of consumers and beer consumption pattern. The premium beer market is set to grow with demand for craft beer to grow the highest. Premium beer market is not very price sensitive as the consumer is ready to pay a little bit extra for the good quality craft beer. With growth in sales, it gives good opportunity on the return of investment for investor and venture.
POSist: How is the craft beer business different from the mass-market breweries?
Anuj: As the name suggests, mass market breweries brew mass selling beers whereas craft beer focus on producing and selling small batches of specialty beer which has its unique taste and flavors. Mass-market breweries set up cost is far higher than craft beer business and they take a long time in achieving economies of scale, usually 3-4 years. Whereas craft beer / brewery operates small operation and has greater focus on their key market areas / cities. Craft beer brewery /business tends to stay profitable from the word go as they have enough margins to support their operations whereas mass-market breweries have to generate bigger volume to support their operation cost.
POSist: What are checkpoints or criteria to keep in mind while choosing the location of a bar?
Anuj: The first thing that goes into consideration is the style of operation and demographics. You need to have a clear picture of what you must have. While many startup mistakes can be corrected later on, a poor choice of location is sometimes impossible to fix. Your location and operation style should be in accord with your particular approach and image of the brand.
POSist: Can you share some facts on the market size of the brewery business? How do you see growing in coming years?
Anuj: Indian beer industry is set to grow in the double-digit year on year. From about INR 280 crore, the craft beer market in India is projected to expand at a pace of to INR 4,400 crore by 2020. We have plans to sell 3.6 million bottles of Witlinger in our key market of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Goa in the first year of business with GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) of over USD 8 million. We plan to sell 5 lac cases by the end of 2017 in key markets and then bring the Witlinger taste to Tier 2 cities in next 2-3 years. For next two years, our focus would be to capture 30% of the premium beer market in India by aggressive sales and promotion drive in existing and new markets.
POSist: According to your experience, what are the food and beverage trends to look forward in the coming months? Is there a particular trend that has caught on?
Anuj: Indian consumers are ready to experiment with the beer taste with the changing lifestyle and alcohol consumption pattern. The trend of drinking beer is changing with people going for craft beer rather than having a high-intensity alcoholic drink. The beer lovers know their taste and they understand the value of the honest taste and authenticity of a product. Craft beer brings a collection of experiences and tastes from around the world. Wilinger has garnered its own fan following due to its unique style and taste brewed from the UK. Witlinger beer is swiftly catching up the taste of millennials who want to seek taste and have freshly brewed beers.
POSist: Any other insights/experience that you would like to share about the F&B industry.
Anuj: As per Industry reports, India will be one of biggest beer markets in the world. The country has the largest young population in the world and the market offers many opportunities for new business avenues in F&B industry. The demand for healthy and ‘anytime’ drinks is spreading in the Indian market as consumers are switching to drinks like craft beer for its unique taste and healthy ingredients. Indian consumers are ready to experience the honest and real craft beer experience and more people are ordering food from mobile apps. This trend opens gates for new opportunities for new-age entrepreneurs who want to enjoy a large pie for fast growing F&B industry in India.
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