INDIA – Anheuser-Busch In-Bev plans to introduce global lager brand Beck’s in India and relaunch others in an attempt to ramp up investment in the country, which it expects could become the largest beer-consuming market in the world.
The company’s shipments in India increased at a double-digit rate, putting it among the fastest-growing territories for the world’s biggest brewer.
Premium brands Budweiser, Hoegaarden and Corona are driving this growth, Ben Verhaert, the company’s India president, said in his first interview after joining the country’s second largest brewer last year.
“India has the second-largest consumer base and is one of the top priorities for the parent company. It is a country where we want to invest more.
We have the most diverse portfolio and are extremely strong towards premium — the leader in this segment,” said Verhaert.
The new brand, Beck’s Ice, will be first launched in Maharashtra and then rolled out nationwide. While AB InBev has been importing brands, this will be the first brewed-in-India brand launch in more than a decade.
AB InBev, which produces one in four beers around the world, was a fringe player until two years ago in the Indian market, where United Breweries controlled a 51% share.
In 2016, it took over second ranked SABMiller, which had a quarter of the market.
Carlsberg has almost 17%.
Although India is one of the world’s largest beer markets, growth has declined and brands such as Kingfisher and Tuborg make it difficult to muscle in.
“In every market where we operate, we have competition. We believe our portfolio is the most diverse one and would like to leverage the positive trend towards premiumisation that will help us expand our reach to major markets across the country. As a country, we are committed to be successful in India,” Verhaert said.
AB InBev’s portfolio in India includes Stella Artois, Leffe and Corona, which are imported, premium brands in a market where strong beer accounts for almost 80% of the segment.
The company is relaunching Haywards 5000 in West Bengal and Maharashtra as well as Knockout in Karnataka. India is also the first country globally to host Bud X, an electronic music lab and a flagship event by Budweiser Experiences.
Beer sales in India have declined in the past two consecutive years after bans and price increases in some states.
“The industry will witness singledigit growth in 2018. People are willing to trade up in prices and the choice we are making now will enable us to stay focussed on the premium market,” said Verhaert.
India remains one of the largest beer markets, with more than 20 million people entering the legal age for drinking every year.
However, the alcoholic beverages industry is heavily regulated, with excise and other taxes forming an important source of revenue for state governments.
In states that collectively account for 70% of the industry’s revenue, the government controls manufacturing, distribution, retailing and pricing of liquor.