Economic Times

Mumbai, Economic Times 19th-July-2010
The world’s second-largest brewer, SABMiller, may have faced setbacks in a few of its core Indian markets, including Andhra Pradesh, bringing down its market share to a little less than 30%. But it seems confident that brand loyalty and focused plans in states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra will see it rebound. From Haywards 5000 and Knock Out to mild beers Royal Challenge, Indus Pride, Foster’s and Peroni in India, SABMiller’s portfolio plays different roles across states. SABMiller India’s director-marketing, Derek Jones, told Sarah Jacob that the young, legally-drinking consumer is the segment that the company would like to draw the most. This segment is reflective of what SABMiller would like the beer category to stand for— trendy and patronised by responsible drinkers. Excerpts:

Have you incorporated any global lessons in India?
There are several learnings from other markets which we bring to bear, and it is one of the benefits of being a multinational. But more often than not, the Indian market has more to share. India is a unique market as every state's excise policy is different and marketing restrictions are also very high.

This means you have to quickly learn which brands work, why and how to communicate positioning within challenging circumstances. It makes one a much more skilled marketeer. On the other hand, if you have to market a national brand and can use television, radio, print and outdoor media, it is not as intellectually stimulating. In fact, if you can make something work here, it could probably be replicated in most places.

How is SABMiller navigating a market that is dominated by strong beer (alcohol content higher than 5%)?
As much as 80% of the Indian beer consumers drink strong beer. But we have become obsessed with alcohol levels as opposed to building brands. Strong beer is an excise or industry-driven thought process and not one of the consumer. Companies have been following what their competition does. So, while there is Haywards 5000, there are a lot of competing brands which are positioned as 10,000.

At some stage, one has to stop being obsessed with being bigger or stronger than the next beer. The consumer wants another reason to drink a brand. Out of habit and given the offerings that have been made, the Indian consumer ‘s palette has got used to a certain kind of beer. But he rarely makes a choice of the brand based on the alcohol content written on the label. The market is at a stage where it has to build the beer category.

We realised that our brands were marketed on alcohol strength and are now refining our positioning by understanding key consumer insights. This is a strong departure from what we have done so far as we are matching our brands to suit different consumer occasions across varying price points.

How will this translate in your marketing strategies?
We are building case studies based on where our brands are and where we intend weaving them. Our consumers do not really differ by income or demographic, but by mindset. Research suggests that the Haywards 5000 consumer is a family man who leads a challenging life, but is willing to overcome obstacles. Haywards is now positioned on the strength of character. The Knock Out consumer, on the other hand, has a very positive disposition. Many things in his life are determined by society, but he can choose certain things like his friends and beer. We weave in events that give this consumer choice.

For instance, giving him the chance to decide the title of a local language movie. Foster’s has a strong mnemonic which has not been exploited well. We intend to establish it and then build layers of information in the consumers mind. At the moment, we are targeting urban consumer whose motivation to relax is met through our art-of-chilling parties platform and have partnered with Inox by associating with the F row across its theatres.

Will SAB Miller consider launching homegrown beer Indus Pride elsewhere, and would Peroni be brewed locally?
Indus Pride, a fully-malted barley beer unlike any other available in India, was introduced it in Rajasthan and Karnataka recently. There has been interest to launch it overseas, particularly in the UK. But we don’t see it as a growth driver yet as brands are built over decades. Peroni too is priced at a premium in the market and the import duties on beer could always make us consider local brewing. But we need to be sure that brand has sufficient volumes before we brew here.