Dec 10, 2008

Business - India;Companies line up single malts for connoisseurs

Suvi Dogra

United Spirits, Diageo, Moet Hennessey and Pernod Ricard have launched over half a dozen brands. More will follow.

There is more Johnnie Walker sold in India than is made in the whole of Scotland, so the joke went. The imbedded point was, Indians only knew of one Scotch whisky: Johnnie Walker.

That was some years ago. With economic advancement has come refinement. Well-heeled Indians now look for something above the ordinary in their Scotch. Result? The market for single malts — the glamour boy of scotch whisky — has begun to gather steam.

Large players like United Spirits, Diageo, Moet Hennessey and Pernod Ricard have started to push their single malt brands in the country.

Single malt Scotch is distilled from a single malted grain, barley, and is not mixed with whisky from any other distillery, while blended Scotch contains a combination of whiskies from over 50 different malt and grain distilleries. The percentage of malt used determines the quality and smoothness of taste and character of the Scotch. The normal ratio of malt to grain is 40 malt and 60 per cent grain.

Currently, the single malt market in the country is pegged at around 30,000 cases per year and is estimated to be growing at 15-20 per cent annually. Clearly, it caters to the high-end of the liquor market. “It is still a niche category in India, though it has picked up pace and is likely to register better growth in the coming years,” says All India Distillers’ Association Director General VN Raina.

After it acquired Whyte & Mackay last year, the Vijay Mallya-controlled United Spirits has introduced the 160-year old popular single malt Scotch The Dalmore. There are three variants – the Dalmore 12 Year Old, The Dalmore Gran Reserva and The Rare Dalmore 40 Year Old, priced at Rs 4,450, Rs 5,500 and Rs 2.5 lakh, respectively. The company will next introduce Isle of Jura 40 and Dalmore 1973.

The company has also revamped the packaging for Dalmore to make it visually more appealing. “The new packaging will act as an interface between luxury and the consumer. The stag head on the Dalmore exudes a more masculine appeal. The use of this unique iconography will give exceptional shelf stand-out in both on- and off-trade,” says United Spirits Business Head (luxury brands) Anant Iyer.

Diageo, which boasts of a wide range of malts in its international portfolio, has already introduced Talisker 18 Year Old (Rs 6,352) and Lagavulin 16 Year Old (Rs 6,408) in India. With the aim to introduce one malt from every region of Scotland, Diageo has expanded its Indian portfolio with brands such as Cragganmore, Caol Ila, Glen Ord, Glen Elgin, Clynelish, Cardhu, Glenkinchie and Singleton of Glen Ord. The brands are at present available in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad at hotels and through Johnnie Walker Select stores.

“While the seasoned scotch consumer will continue to fuel the demand for single malts, we hope to educate other discerning consumers and gradually ease them into malt drinking,” says Diageo India Director (marketing) Santosh Kanekar. “With the Customs duty down, the sales of malts have only helped grow the market.” Single malts already contribute 15 per cent to the total sales from the reserve division (luxury division) for Diageo.

Players like Moet Hennessy and Pernod Ricard too are present in the category with Glenmorangie and The Glenlivet, respectively. Duty-free stores, hotels and high-end restaurants continue to be the favoured channels of sales for these high-end brands. “The consumer today is willing to understand and experiment with malts. Hence, it is not hard to find people willing to spend the same amount of money on a glass of a luxury brand for which they could have bought 3-4 glasses of blended scotch,” notes an industry observer.

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