Indian summer

Despite its overall size and projected long-term growth, Indian Whisky faced difficulties last winter and this spring. Hamish Smith reports on improved prospects this summer


FIRST, YOU MUST appreciate the scale of Indian whisky. At 174m 9-litre cases (Euromonitor International), India is the largest whisky market. It is home to the largest whisky brand, Allied Blenders & Distillers’ Officer’s Choice (32.9m cases), and the second largest (Diageo’s McDowell’s No.1), the third (Pernod Ricard’s Imperial Blue) and even the fourth (Royal Stag, also Pernod Ricard). Indeed, seven of the top 10 whisky brands globally are Indian. This is the land of the giants – what happens here determines the health of the whisky category globally. No sick notes are needed, Indian whisky has grown 22% in the past five years (Euromonitor International).

And India is really only getting started. When you consider where the country is heading economically, socially and culturally, this is still a green market ripe for development. India’s GDP growth rate is the highest of any country with a population of more than 100m, last year growing at 6.8%, which is about the average yearly gain this side of the millennium. By 2025 its middle classes will be more numerous than the population of Europe and its affluent, luxury-leaning consumer group will be double the size of Australia – 40m people.

Not only will more people have the money to spend, more people will be drinking, full stop. Currently only two-thirds of Indians drink – this, some 850m teetotallers, is one hell of an untapped market. Not for long. India is liberalising and with it religious and cultural stigmas around drinking are fading fast. Where once women didn’t drink, now – in metropolitan cities at least – they can and they do. Urbanisation, internet penetration, global travel, increased job opportunities and swelling salaries mean the population has far more independence than before, of mind and of pocket. The signs are these aspirational new drinkers know what they want to spend their disposable incomes on – and that’s brands.


Now consider that this is a country in which 65% of the population is 35 or under. It is the world’s largest collection of millennials. Once things swing their way, they won’t swing back quickly. At the heart of this youthful consumer group is a sense of freedom – unsaddled by the cultural baggage or memories of hardship of their forefathers. A fair few brand-driven industries are already seeing rapid growth thanks to these fertile market conditions and whisky, the national spirit (55% of all spirits consumed), seems likely to too.

Anand Kripalu, managing director and chief executive of Diageo subsidiary United Spirits – which owns nine of the 16 Indian whisky brands over 1m cases – is watching India’s transformation unfold. “Over the past few years, India’s economy has been the bright spot among the large emerging markets. Favourable economic and demographic factors, coupled with changing attitudes, are projected to support a long-term increase in consumer spending.”