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John Distilleries: From regional to national

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Tied at the fourth spot with , the Bangalore-based liquor firm is in a hurry to fill up key product gaps in its portfolio.

Bangalore-based has trained its sight at markets beyond its traditional stronghold of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which account for 85 per cent of sales now. But the first step has been taken, with its flagship brand already becoming one of the leading whisky brands in India selling almost 10 million cases annually (one case contains twelve bottles).

But that’s not enough for a national play. More brands have to be added to the list based on consumer tastes and preferences across regions.

The Rs 470-crore JDL has set the process in motion under the leadership of chairman and vice-chairman , former managing director of , who joined JDL in June last year.

Adil has a stake in the company, so ensuring that the overall vision of a pan-India presence is translated into reality is as much his as it is John's.

“In the last 10 months, I have been working on three things: building a team, introducing new brands, and of course, going into newer territories/regions,” says Adil.

Doing this is not easy, he says, given the fact that liquor is a state subject in India. “But we are taking steps in that direction,” he reiterates.

In December, for instance, JDL launched Mont Castle French Brandy taking on Mumbai-based Tilaknagar Industries’ flagship Mansion House Brandy. Key brandy-consuming states are located in the south of India. So it’s a head-on collision with Mansion House in these states. Even the price points of the two products are similar. In Maharashtra, for instance, a 750-ml bottle of Mont Castle and Mansion House is available at Rs 310.

So what differentiates one from the other? “It’s the packaging,” says Adil.

JDL’s Mont Castle comes in a frosted bottle to Tilaknagar’s plain-glass alternative. The labelling on the bottle makes it stand out, he says. “And the cost incurred is not considerable. We have a team in place whose job is to ensure that both manufacturing and packaging are not compromised even as we work towards being cost efficient,” he says.

But these are just a few things that Adil is doing to make his products visible in the crowded Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) market.

The market is estimated to be over 190 million cases a year, growing at a CAGR of about 12 per cent. Key IMFL players include United Spirits with a market share of about 55 per cent, followed by Pernod Ricard (formerly Seagram India) at about 16 per cent, Radico Khaitan at about 11 per cent, then JDL and Allied Blenders & Distillers both tied at about 8-10 per cent market share respectively.

For JDL to move up the pecking order then, there is more to be done, acknowledges Adil. The company will be getting into the thick of action next year.

Beginning April next year, JDL will roll out its key white-spirit portfolio. This is something Adil is looking forward to because it will help fill up key product gaps, he says.

“We will roll out white rum, gin and vodka under the Salute umbrella. Vodka will come in three flavours - mango, orange and green apple,” he says. The Original Choice franchise meanwhile will be extended to a premium Orginal Choice Gold whisky. The existing Original Choice portfolio consists of gin, rum and brandy besides the flagship whisky. The key whisky brand, however, is a revenue grosser for the company.

“Whisky as a segment is the largest in the IMFL market. Its consumption is spread across the country,” says Adil. “Rum has a large consumption in the west such as Maharashtra and Goa, the south and some parts of the north. Brandy, of course, has its pockets in the south. Gin as a category is small,” he says.

A quartz of the Orginal Choice Deluxe whisky, for instance, is available for Rs 65 in Maharashtra. The Gold variant, on the other hand, is likely to cost Rs 85-90 for the same quantity in the state, says Adil.

This is not all. There are more whisky brands in the offing from JDL in the coming months such as Grand Duke Prestige whisky and Highland Cask. “The idea is to premiumise our portfolio even as we consolidate our presence in the economy segment,” says Adil. The possibility of strengthening its existing wine range under the Big Banyan umbrella is also there, but Adil is not speaking about it yet. “There are seven varietal wines at the moment. Expansion is possible into the sparkling range, for instance. But that can wait for now.”

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