If you are a beer connoisseur, you are already likely to be a ‘craft beer’ aficionado. For the uninitiated, yet to acquire the taste, craft beer is beer produced at a craft brewery, which is small, independent and traditional. Simply put, it is beer not mass produced and marketed by the big beer companies.
But craft beer is not an exclusive foreign thing anymore. India now has many brands that make that cloudy and partially filtered brew with a myriad flavors, making it easy to drink at any time of the day. The crisp beer is brewed with a mix of wheat and malt, using traditional ale yeast.
Anuj Kushwah, managing director and founder of Kaama Impex Pvt Ltd, runs craft beer brand Witlinger, launched in April 2014.
Anuj, who stayed in London for a long time, returned to India with a great taste for authentic craft beer and looking for the same flavours, locally. He found the Indian alcho-beverage market loaded with beer brands but lacking in taste and innovation. He simultaneously realised that people, with their changing lifestyle and consumption patterns, were ready for something better and “less watery”.
Yes, the votaries of craft beer have reasons galore to love their pint. It tastes better, they say, and has more alcohol and less water, which means fewer trips to the bathroom. It is argued to contain more nutrients than wine, lesser calories and, to top it all, is less expensive! No wonder it is skyrocketing in popularity the world over, and now in India.
Anuj says: “The idea behind the Witlinger brand is to offer the real, honest, and premium craft beer experience at an attractive price.” His company is forecast to capture 30 per cent of the premium beer market.
According to a study conducted by Journal Beer, the Indian beer market has increased from 468 million litres to 2,366 million litres, between 2001 and 2015.
According to TechNavio, a UK-based market research company, the beer market in India will grow at a CAGR of 16.94 per cent and 14.57 per cent on the basis of revenue and volume, respectively, over the period 2013-2018.
“We have plans to sell 3.6 million bottles of Witlinger in our key markets in the first year of business, with gross merchandise value of over $8 million. We plan to sell 5 lakh cases by the end of 2017 in key markets and then bring the Witlinger taste to tier 2 cities in the next few years,” says Anuj.
Witlinger’s key markets are Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Goa.
Anuj says that in such a short time his brand has garnered its own fan following due to its unique taste. “Even before the official launch of Witlinger bottles, Kaama Impex received pre-orders of over 10,000 cases (GMV of $5,50,000) from the Delhi market alone. And it is already a big hit in major bars, restaurants, clubs, five-star hotels and cafes, including the Beer Café, Warehouse Cafe, Townhouse Cafe, Open House, and Lord of Drinks. We do not see any competition in our market category,” he adds, revealing that initially, as a new player in the market, he did face challenges convincing the beer cafés to host the product.
He, however, is not the only player in the category. B9, White Zen, Old Tom, Leffe Blonde, and Shepherd Neame IPA are some of the known brands in the craft beer category.
Early this year, Craft beer company B9 Beverages raised $ 6 million in Series A funding from Sequoia Capital and other investors for its handcrafted beer brand Bira91. Other investors include Rohit Bansal and Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal), Ashish Dhawan of Chrys Capital and Deepinder Goyal of Zomato.
Kama Impex recently secured seven-digit dollar funding from angel investors Jasmeet Marwah and Amit Anand to support its expansion plans. It plans to invest in aggressive sales and marketing in its key markets.
The founder is also in talks with local brewers to brew Witlinger, available in Wheat Ale & Lager variants, in India.
“Local brewing will expand our market reach and give us higher volume growth. We are in talks with PE/venture finance as well to support our expansion plans,” says Anuj.
India’s per capita beer consumption is close to 1.4 litres, annually, which is very low when compared to the world average of 65 litres, annually. Reports suggest that India will be one of the biggest beer markets in the coming years. So Anuj sees this huge consumption gap as the biggest challenge for now.
In addition, distribution of liquor/beer is a state-wise affair. “Different state policy of distribution and sales is hampering growth,” he says.
But Anuj is upbeat that despite the hurdles, charging a fair margin will be easy as the premium beer market is not price-sensitive (since the consumer is ready to pay extra for good quality), and there is less competition.
“We will bring some more flavours and also plan to have special editions packaging for an event/occasion,” reveals Anuj, who has to his credit an MBA degree in international trade and finance from London. He also successfully ran a financial consulting firm in the UK before starting Kaama Impex.