The inaugural session highlighted the need for premiumisation and greater efforts to bring Indian brands to the global stage
The day-long conference at Brews&Spirits Expo-2023, with ‘Grain to Glass 4.0: Disruptive Innovation and The Shape of Things to Come’ as its theme, was attended by over 3,000 delegates and visitors from the industry, from within India and abroad.
In his welcome address, Mr Narayan Manepally, Chairman of the Advisory Committee of Brews&Spirits Expo-2023, explained that after three successful editions, the trade show had established itself as a landmark annual event for the alcobev space. This was reflected in noticeably wider participation from across product categories, both in the supply and demand sides, he added.
Mr Sukhinder Singh, Founder & CEO of the London-based The Whisky Exchange, delivered the Keynote address. Speaking on the theme of ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, Sukhinder said he felt it was important for the industry to look back and learn from the past, even while remaining firmly in the present.
Noting the exponential growth of brands across the world, he felt that this was a good sign and augurs well for the industry. “We had, in the past, maybe a dozen or so different single malt whiskey brands. Today there are hundreds. We used to have maybe 10 gin brands. Today there are over 1,000. So things have changed a lot, and it is important to adapt to change,” he said.
In the Indian context, he said: “It’s such a big country; you have enormous challenges along with political ones. Every state has its own rules – a bit like the US – so I guess you need to look at each state as a country in itself!”
“But one thing which I always noticed was that while I was seeing new brands launch and evolve around the world, there never was a global Indian brand. If anything came close to becoming a global brand it would be Old Monk rum – which I think is a superb product – and the other one was Kingfisher beer. Both had the potential to be huge. But it wasn’t until 2004 that Amrut whiskey emerged as the first Indian icon,” he noted.
The Whisky Exchange does a ‘Whiskey of the year’, ‘Gin of the year’, and ‘Rum of the year’. “This year, our ‘Gin of the year’ was Stranger and Sons gin from India from among 600 gins worldwide,” Sukhinder said.
However, for the size and population of the country, there should be hundreds of wineries, hundreds of distilleries, and thousands of breweries. “This is what is happening around the world. Why not in India?” he asked.
He threw a challenge to the august group of entrepreneurs who had gathered for the event. “India is one of the largest sugar cane producing countries of the world. Why do you not have rums which are on the global market? There is a revolution happening around the world in rum,” he said.
“There are so many brands which have adopted the single malt whiskey way of making a good spirit. They are taking molasses-based or sugarcane-based, 100% pot-still distilled, matured in casks and then bottled after 5 years, 10 years, like a lovely single malt whiskey. India should be doing the same,” he suggested.
“I believe India needs to become the hub of creativity,” he continued. “You have some of the finest ingredients available in the world. Your spices and herbs are used to make some of the products from the big companies. So why are you not utilising them? You could be making amazing liqueurs; you should be making amazing spirits,” he opined.
Sukhinder also emphasised the need to understand the customer. “Consumers today are travelling more; they are much more sensible; they are much more experienced with new cultures and new cuisines; and they are open to new flavours. So a finger on the consumer pulse is always necessary,” he stressed.
On the retail front, he highlighted the need to educate the frontline staff. “I strongly believe that the single-most important thing to develop this market with new products – be they Indian or imported – is education. I urge you guys to train your staff: they are your ambassadors,” he said.
Emphasising the importance of premiumisation, Sukhinder observed, “Consumers are getting wealthier. They are willing to pay more for products. The demand for aged spirits, like whiskey and Cognac, especially with big age statements, is high.”
As need for introspection and by way of encouragement, he concluded: “You now have several international brands, but I would love to see dozens more. You now have a lady Master of Wine. Why not more? You have bars in the top 50 in the world. Why not more? I think a revolution is starting. So I want to see a lot more!”
Delivering the special address, Mr A.D. Singh, Founder & MD of the Olive Group of Restaurants said: “I definitely see the growth of our beverages in the F&B space within India. I think the time is ripe to introduce ourselves in international markets. It’s a great opportunity in retail, and it’s something that the Indian consumer is looking for.”
He pointed out that the industry was people driven and his advice was that it was important that employees should be looked on as partners and they should be looked after. “For a company to be successful nationally we need to value our people. Not just financially, but caring about their aspirations, how they want to grow, caring about the difficulties that they go through is important,” was his advice.
Vikram Achanta, Co-Founder of Tulleeho and Consulting Editor for Brews&Spirits magazine, was the Master of Ceremonies.
For the full inaugural session, visit Brews&Spirits Expo on YouTube.