Almost three decades after selling soft drink brands Thums Up, Gold Spot and Limca to Coca-Cola, Ramesh Chauhan is divesting Bisleri International to Tata Consumer Products Ltd (TCPL) for an estimated ₹6,000-7,000 crore.
The current management will continue for two years as part of the deal. Chauhan, 82, has been in indifferent health in recent times and says he doesn’t have a successor to take Bisleri to the next level of expansion. Daughter Jayanti isn’t too keen on the business, Chauhan said. Bisleri is India’s largest packaged water company.
The Tata Group “will nurture and take care of it even better,” although selling Bisleri was still a “painful” decision, Chauhan said. “I like the Tata culture of values and integrity and hence made up my mind despite the aggression shown by other interested buyers.”
Bisleri is said to have had several suitors at different times, including Reliance Retail, Nestle and Danone. Talks with Tata have been going on for two years and he made up his mind after meeting Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran and Tata Consumer CEO Sunil D’Souza a few months back. “I like them. They are good guys,” he told ET.
No Minority Stake
ET was the first to report that the Tata Group had made an offer for Bisleri on September 12.
Chauhan doesn’t see any point in holding minority stakes after selling the business. “What will I do with it when I am not running the show?” he said. After exiting the bottled water business, Chauhan intends to refocus and invest in environmental and charitable causes such as water harvesting, plastic recycling and helping the poor get medical treatment.
Coca-Cola bought the entire portfolio of aerated drinks from Chauhan and his brother Prakash in 1993. Apart from those mentioned above, they included brands such as Citra, RimZim and Maaza. Tata Consumer is aggressive in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) space and aiming to be among the top three in the sector. It also sells packaged mineral water under the Himalayan brand as well as Tata Copper Plus Water and Tata Gluco+. Acquiring Bisleri will catapult it to No. 1 in the segment.
Chauhan said the deal wasn’t just about the money. “Even I don’t know what I will do with it (the money) but let me make it clear. It was not just the value I am getting for it, I was more anxious to find a home that would look after it as I did. This is a business I have built with passion and it is now run by equally passionate employees,” he said.
Chauhan has handed over day-to-day management to a professional team headed by CEO Angelo George. Chauhan said the Bisleri brand’s turnover for FY23 is estimated at Rs 2,500 crore with profit at Rs 220 crore. Available numbers for the year ended March 2021, which was marked by Covid, shows income from sales at Rs 1,181 .7 crore and profit of Rs 95 crore, according to business intelligence platform Tofler, compared with revenue of Rs 1,472 crore and profit of Rs 100 crore for the year ended March 2020.
Bisleri was originally an Italian brand that set up shop in India in Mumbai in 1965. The Chauhans acquired it in 1969. The company has 122 operational plants (13 of them owned) and a network of 4,500 distributors and 5,000 trucks across India and neighbouring countries.