This Summer, Beer Raises a Toast

While geo-political conditions arising due to Russia-Ukraine war have had an impact on prices, the upbeat mood of beer crafters is evident from new launches

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Are you a beer enthusiast? Then there is good news for you. After two scarce and dry seasons, this summer the beer market is enjoying its heydays again. Companies such as United Breweries, DeVANS Modern Breweries, Simba and Bira 91 have already ramped up sales. Though the market has improved in terms of sales, there are some effects of geo-political conditions.

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Shooting numbers

For United Breweries, March 2022 was a record month, historically, in terms of sales volume. In the January-March quarter, volumes witnessed a year-on-year and sequential growth of 7 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively.

"United Breweries has achieved share growth, both in the March quarter as well in FY22, further solidifying our market leadership. With the demand picture normalizing, we are geared up for the full peak season, which has shown a promising start in the month of March. Although the COVID-19 trajectory of course remains unknown, we are confident in successfully navigating any potential impact with agility and customer-centricity. Most states, barring a few, have witnessed volume recovery and are looking to surpass pre-pandemic levels," said Rishi Pardal, MD and CEO, United Breweries.

Indian craft beer brands such as Simba and Bira 91 are also having their moment under the sun. "The year 2022 is looking extremely promising for us. As the market share of the premium beer category grows and consumers look to explore more flavors, it is certain the demand will only rise as compared to previous years," said Ankur Jain, founder and CEO, Bira 91.

To match the growing demand, Bira 91 has ramped up operations tremendously and its market share has exceeded five per cent for the first time in FY22, three times of pre-COVID-19 levels. The company has also amped up digital market share across UP, Delhi, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. "Our manufacturing capacity is now at 2.4 million cases a month, which is six times more in comparison to 2019. Our ability to release new products from the boardroom to the market has reduced from six to nine months to less than 12 weeks. This is predominantly because of the investments we have made in our breweries to drive innovation with speed," Jain added.

"People are getting back to the market and trying to compensate for what they missed-out in two years. There has been an increase in demand and we are back to our pre-pandemic numbers. In 2019, we used to make three lakh cases a month and now we are hoping to cross four lakh cases a month," said Ishwaraj Bhatia, co-founder and COO of Simba Beer.

DeVANS Modern Breweries Ltd, the maker of Godfather Super 8, has also seen a surge in demand. "We had predicted a huge increase in beer demand as sales rebound after two years of COVID-19. Both our breweries in Jammu and Rajasthan are working at full capacity. We have in addition started production at a tie up unit in Arunachal and would shortly be starting production in another new unit in Jharkhand. We hope to achieve a sale of over 8 million cases this year which would be more than double of what we achieved last year and substantially more than our pre-pandemic levels," said Prem Dewan, managing director of DeVANS Modern Breweries Ltd.

Secret behind new launches

With disposable incomes rising, the Indian consumer's preference for premium beverages is seeing an upward trend. Disposable personal income in India increased to INR 238 lakh crore in 2021 from INR 199 lakh crore in 2020, said data from ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MOSPI).

"With rising incomes, there is a growing desire to consume global brands and we are currently evaluating which other potential brands from Heineken's international portfolio can be launched in the Indian market. We will also stay focussed on driving penetration in the market through the Kingfisher brand franchise," said Pardal of United Breweries.

United Breweries has successfully launched its craft style Belgian wheat beer Ultra Witbier and international premium strong beer Amstel in southern markets. "We are now aggressively expanding these two products across the country. The growth in our premium portfolio has outpaced our overall sales growth," Pardal added.

DeVANS Modern Breweries launched two new products last year: Godfather Super 8 and Six Fields Cult, a strong white beer. "Both the products are unique in their categories and are quality products which are doing very well in the market. We have planned for more introductions later in the year," said Dewan.

Recently, Bira 91 introduced Bira 91 Gold, a strong wheat ale brewed from golden wheat available in India. "This has performed exceedingly well with consumers," said Jain. The brand is also coming up with products for its fitness enthusiasts. "We also cater to the fitness forward consumer by reformulating our wheat beer to reduce the number of calories and bringing in Bira 91 Light, one of the first-ever beers with just 80-calories to launch in the Indian market."

Bira 91 has also unveiled Imagined In India, a portfolio of four new beers, namely Bollywood IPA, Kokum Sour, Brown Ale, and Mango Lassi. "These are part of our limited release beers and we have received exponential response," Jain added.

Simba beer is all set to come up with its new launches in November and December. "We are experimenting a lot and as the cost has gone up due to the pandemic we are taking our time," said co-founder of Simba Beer. The brand has seen an exceptional demand for its lager beer.

Facing the geo-political heat

Barley is one of the major ingredients of beer and the Russia-Ukraine war has caused a disruption in the global supply chain. These countries are among the world's biggest barley exporters. Though India produces barley, the domestic prices are getting affected by the disruption and causing a spike in price.

"We have been operating in a high inflation environment and the commodity cost picture remains challenging and volatile. The barley prices that we've seen being traded in the last couple of weeks in India are 70 per cent up versus prior year. Barley for us is a cost component of around 15 per cent. We are actively working towards mitigating the impact of inflation through a combination of productivity increases, cost control and judicious price increases for which we are in conversations with state governments," said Pardal.

United Breweries is implementing price increases in Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and a number of smaller states.

"The problem at the moment is compounded by the fact that the barley crop in India has been bad this year leading to severe shortage and resultant price increase," said the MD of DeVANS.

The huge increase in the cost of all inputs has not impacted DeVANS's production till now. "However, the biggest question mark in future would be the availability of barley for production of beer. Barley is in short supply not only within the country but also in the international market and its availability is definitely going to be a cause of concern for brewers who have not entered into long term contracts," said Dewan.

Whether it's glass, aluminum, wheat or barley, all essential commodities are either facing price escalation or shortage. "The Russia-Ukraine crisis has caused a significant increase in the prices of essential raw materials for beer and caused roadblocks in the supply chain network for a temporary period. However, we are focusing our efforts on securing them in adequate quantities to ensure uninterrupted production. To mitigate this issue, we are also improving our product mix and selling more of our premium portfolio than the mass-market products. We are committed to focusing more on innovation, where we are also able to command premium pricing," said the CEO of Bira 91.

"The price of barley and malt have gone up three times since the war. Aluminum can prices have also increased, overall the raw material prices have shooted up and right now our profit margins have stooped a little low as we do not want to shift this cost of production to our consumers," said the COO of Simba beer.

According to a report, the global beer market size was valued at $605,246.1 million in 2020, and is projected to reach $816,847.7 million by 2030, registering a CAGR of 2.7 per cent from 2021 to 2030.