Feature

United Spirits’ loss is Pernod Ricard’s gain. But no, that’s not the story

New Indian brands have stormed the mid-market whisky segment. Little grains do a mighty ocean make

When Virat Maan plunged headlong into the family’s liquor retail business, he hadn’t crossed the legal drinking age. He was 16. But he doesn’t care to talk about himself. The 25-year-old would rather keep the spotlight on his brand Royal Green, which comes in a distinctive bottle. Launched in 2014, this whisky brand hit the one million case mark in three years and today, it does over two million — one case is 12 bottles of 750 ml each or nine litres in all.

The Royal Green brand is owned by ADS Spirits, a company started by Maan’s father and his two siblings. Housed in Haryana’s Bahadurgarh, their journey in the liquor industry started off over three decades ago as retailers. Today, that network spreads to at least 100 stores apart from being one of the largest wholesalers in the state. Teetotaller Maan, who now doubles up as ADS’ business head, went to London for his MBA and even worked with the likes of Diageo and Pernod Ricard.

By his own admission, nothing has been more satisfying than building the family’s liquor business, more specifically creating brands across whisky, rum, vodka and gin. That said, the success of Royal Green stands out. Though Haryana and Delhi are core markets, the brand has slowly moved to selling in 17 other states — it has manufacturing plants in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, apart from contract bottling units in Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In the past five years, Royal Green has joined the likes of at least three more — Sterling Reserve B7 (from Allied Blenders and Distillers), All Seasons (Oasis Group) and White & Blue (Alcobrew Distilleries) — that have quietly made their mark in the whisky side of the spirits industry. These are million-case brands, which have earned the title after hitting the magical number in sales. Created from scratch, they have gained significantly from the decision of United Spirits (USL) to focus on the top end of the market — priced at over Rs.750 for a 750 ml bottle. London-headquartered Diageo, which gained control of USL in 2014, wanted to run a more profitable ship, and profit margin in the premium end is 5x more than the 7% the regular segment generates.

Santosh Kanekar, founder, BeLive Corp and ex-marketing director at Diageo India, says USL v

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