New Delhi: India’s largest brewer, United Breweries Limited (UB), on Wednesday announced the rollout of speciality beer– Ultra Witbier–under its flagship Kingfisher brand, riding on the growing popularity of craft brews in the India’s top metros.
Ultra Witbier that has been rolled out in Karnataka and Goa, is the brand’s first non-lager beer. Available in 3 SKUs (stock keeping units), a 330ml bottle, a 500ml can and a 650ml bottle, the brew is priced at ₹110, ₹150 and ₹185, respectively in Karnataka.
UB will subsequently sell the brand in Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana.
Over 18-24 months in the making, the Kingfisher Ultra Witbier comes at a time when the Indian market has seen a rise of new-age beer brands that appeal to urban millennials with their light brews and hip branding. As a result, brands such as Bira, Simba, The White Owl, among others, have seen a surge in popularity in the country’s top cities. Ultra Witbier 330 ml is priced at par with Bira White and Simba Jungle Wheat in Bengaluru.
Currently, the company brews the brand in its brewery in Karnataka with orange, coriander, spices sourced from Belgium and hops sourced from the US. Its ABV or alcohol by volume is less than 5%.
“This is the first unique offering from the UB house in to the speciality and variety beer market. A lot of such beers exist and they all have their unique tone,” Debabrata Mukherjee, chief marketing officer, United Breweries Limited said in an interview to Mint. The brand will help widen the company’s “footprint and provide another innovative beverage option in the beer category,” he added. “We wanted to anchor it under a brand that has got a national appeal,” he said when asked about the company’s decision to launch it under the Kingfisher Ultra brand.
India is traditionally a large a whiskey and rum drinking market, but the world’s largest beer companies such as Ab InBev, Carlsberg, and Heineken have a strong presence in the market where the per capita consumption of beer is 2 litres. And UB is the largest player in India’s beer market.
Here, strong beers, with alcohol content between 6% and 8%, dominate the market accounting for over 85% of the total beer consumed in India. But the trend has been shifting over the last few years as discerning urban Indians flock to breweries, pubs, and bars and look for more choices across beverages they consume.
As a result, over the last few years brands such as Bira beer, Simba, The White Owl, Kati Patang, among others, have found a niche audience in urban consumers, shaking the dominance of strong beer makers.
Analysts who track the market said the launch is an important as it helps UB, the market leader in beer, fill a gap in its portfolio. “UB’s distribution muscle makes the launch a win for the company. Also it can cross subsidize new launch in terms of dealer margins and ad spends due to its huge size and number one position,” said Abneesh Roy, research analyst, and executive vice president, Institutional Equities, Edelweiss Securities Limited.
Roy, however, warned that the equity built by first movers such as Bira will be hard to win back. “Die-hard fans of Bira will be tough to win back, so from here, it will be a war in terms of ad spends and dealer targetting for all craft beer.”
UB’s Mukherjee added that competition in the market is helping “widen the footprint of beer in India and getting new users in to the market. It is not a share game but a market building game.”
In 2018-19, Kingfisher Ultra sold over 5 million cases, the company said in its annual report.
Over the last two to three years, United Breweries has stepped up launches of beer in the domestic market, leveraging Heineken’s—a shareholder in the company—international portfolio to introduce beer brands such as Amstel, El Sol, among others, in India. In 2017, it launched Kingfisher Storm, while Dutch beer brand Amstel was launched in May 2018. Last year, it added a non-alcohol variant—Radler–under the Kingfisher brand.