Exclusive interview with Ankur Jain, CEO & Founder, Cerana Beverages Pvt Ltd.
Globally beer is the third most widely taken drink after tea and coffee. And as per Jain, ‘Beer is an all day beverage’. While in an exclusive conversation with Restaurant India, Ankur Jain candidly shares about the evolution, differentiation and the taste development in the craft beer brewing category in India.
How craft beer is different from other brewing techniques?
Craft beer can be defined as specialty beer that necessarily involves traditional brewing process using natural ingredients. The evolution of craft beer in India goes hand in hand with our food evolution processes. For example, we have evolved from our coffee drinking habits to more enhanced, customised cappuccino or espresso coffees. Similarly, craft beer also has evolved. In the evolution process, there are two important parameters that have been established. Be it a food or beverage product, a consumer looks at how widely available the product is in the market and two is experience. In the beer segment, the past has been dominated by big brands like Kingfisher, Heineken, Corona etc. Now people are discovering newer tastes and today there are 90 plus variety of different tasted beer available in the world. So, people now are opening up to newer beer experiences. Coming to craft beer, it focuses on experience and that experience comes from three components. First- it is a specialty beer, second it is made with traditional brewing processes and third it uses all natural ingredients. If it’s is not made with all these three elements then you can’t call a beer a craft beer even if it is produced in a factory or microbrewery.
In India, what is the market size of craft beer? Who are the other names in this category?
In India, the market for craft beer is just starting up and now stands at less than one percent. If you look at the specialty beer market, it is 1.5 percent market which comprises of craft beer, non-lager imports and third is microbrewery.
There are at least 40-50 microbreweries producing beer, plus there are specialised importers like us.
How you are positioning your soon to be launched product Biru?
Biru is positioned as India’s first widely available craft beer. We are going to launch it in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore in 2014 and in next year we will be taking this in London. So the brand is going to fulfil the need of craft beer which is trendy and fun.
You recently have raised seed funding to support expansion. Who are the investors and what is the amount you have received from them?
Our agreement does not allow us to disclose the funding amount but to say about this funding; I would say that this is very significant amount that has led us to take leadership position in the market in both draft and craft beer. As per our expansion strategy, we are planning to start at least 1,000 dispensers in the market and we aim to be the market leader in the craft beer segment. All our investors are from New York, Singapore & Siliocon Valley.
As per research, you are going to use this funding in your beer dispense network. What are your other plans?
Our plan is to launch Biru in Delhi, Mumbai in August 2014, Goa & Bangalore in October and Dubai and London in 2015, March. We will also be installing craft beer machines in all the 1,000 outlets.
Over the years, what changes you have observed in the beer consumption pattern in India?
India is a fast changing beer market. The first and foremost change that has happened over the years is normalisation of the beer category. People now do not associate beer with hard spirits or liqueur anymore and in large cities like Delhi and Mumbai it is not unusual for people to order beer with their lunch. So the normalisation of beer as lower, softer alcoholic beverages has been accepted by consumers. Also differentiation between beer and whisky which was a predominant hard liquor category in India-has come.
Beer has been accepted widely by the first timers and those first timers come from three parts. One form the group of people who are graduating to drinking age, second could be the female first timers, third are the people who want to moderate their alcoholic consumption. So it is a very interesting space where you will get a lot of interesting consumers and where the drinking occasion is getting elongated as you can have beer with you lunch, dinner, etc anytime of the day and beer is all day beverage. The horizon is actually got expanded.
How supporting the role of Indian bars and pubs serving these beverages?
Indian bars and pubs are our primary customers and they are quite supporting in getting new brands and experiences. The challenge that we face as an industry and that effects the bar owners equally is the challenge related to issues like the licenses are difficult to get, taxes are really high, inconsistent law policies in terms of opening and closing time of bars etc-all these challenges really bother to operate in this space.
What are your expectations in changing the legislation?
To some extent it is happening although at a relatively slow pace.
Just as the Indian consumers have recognised that there is a difference between beer and hard spirits, government should also recognise that reality is there. Alcoholic beverage with five percent alcohol per volume is very different from an alcoholic beverage having 50 percent alcohol per volume. The recognition has to come from licensing, availability and taxation standpoints. Obtaining license for outlets only to sell beer should be easy. In India, the govt has very opposite kind of policy for beer. The tax levied on beer is the highest among all other alcoholic beverages whereas if you compare the per unit liquor consumption, beer is much healthier. If I were in the boots of government bodies I would have changed this.