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Friday, March 31, 2023

Cheers to India’s unity in diversity

President, Asia Pacific, for Heineken, the Dutch beer giant, Jacco van der Linden, declared that “India is more of a continent than a country and to really understand this large and complex market, you would have to de-average the market.” He was speaking at the company’s Capital Markets event.

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It is easy to poke fun at this Dutchman’s own version of the Discovery of India. After all, the truth of his statement is obvious to those of us who live in the country and take its extreme diversity for granted. It has been evident to multinational companies that have put down roots in India, and adopted marketing strategies to cater to the varied multitudes that constitute India. From Hindustan Unilever to Dulux, the current version of ICI’s Indian arm manufacturing paints, many companies have aped the successful practice of their homegrown competitors, of offering their products in extremely small packages, to cater to the bottom segment of the market, which cannot afford to store anything more than their immediate requirement. Companies have to produce their advertising in the language of the target market, which could be any one of the 22 languages recognized in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. What is the average language for India, if you want to sell beer in Kerala, as well as in Kolkata and Mumbai, and not just to the English-speaking elites of these markets?

If you are used to creating marketing strategies for the fairly homogeneous markets of Europe, where consumers speak the same language — okay, three, if you are in Switzerland, and two, if you are in Belgium — in each, follow or ignore the moral norms of the self-same religion, subscribe to no gender-specific norms of abstinence, relate to the same icons of popular culture, mythology and lore, you will find India a very different place. Indians are differentiated vertically by social hierarchy and income, horizontally by language, region, religion and ethnicity, in a way few other nations are.

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The states that consume most quantities of alcohol per capita consume country liquor/toddy more than beer or that oxymoron, Indian Made Foreign Liquor, say Jharkand or Andhra Pradesh. The territories that report the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, it turns out, are watering holes for visitors from states that profess virtuous abstention from intoxicants — totems of Indians’ hypocrisy over liquor, alongside hooch tragedies in states that impose prohibition.

Women don’t drink, by and large — the proportion of women who drink rises above the low single digits only in some hill states. According to the results of the National Family Health Survey 5, nationally, only 1.3% of women pan India consume alcohol. In nine states/Union Territories, the proportion of women who consume alcohol is 0.3%.

If that is dispiriting for liquor companies, there is comfort, too. And it is not just in absolute numbers — 0.3% of Indian women translate into roughly 2.1 million tipplers. A YouGov survey found that 16% of urban Indians drink. That works out to some 80 million active consumers. And given the proclivity of Indians to give honest answers in surveys, especially to questions, a positive answer to which would put them on the wrong side of moral rectitude, this is likely to be a gross underestimate. And a higher proportion of the numerically larger rural Indians drink than urbanites. But town-dwellers are better-heeled and more inclined to consumer beer and western spirits.

The good news for beer manufacturers is that, for the self-confessed Bacchanalians of urban India, beer is their preferred drink — 56% have tried beer and 24% identify beer as their favourite alcoholic beverage. As India prospers, it would urbanise fast, and urban Indians would learn to let down their hair and have a good time, with a glass of good cheer to help them along. Beer companies that have the stomach to stay the course are likely to have a very lucrative ride.

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But just as foreign beer producers find India diverse beyond their imagination, Indians are likely to be taken aback by the diversity of beer styles, as well. Going beyond ales and lagers, pale and dark beers, mildly alcoholic beers to those packing a punch, Indians will learn to find their favourite or favourites from among more than 70 different types of beers, with craft beer makers experimenting with different varieties of hops, combinations of yeasts and brewing temperatures to create yet new, unique variants of a drink that dates back more than 5,000 years to ancient Iran and Sumer. In relatively modern times, it might have been Germany to first adopt a law to set standards for beer, in the sixteenth century, but Sumer and Egypt had specific deities for beer, in their years of glory.

Let the world’s beers flow to India, to fill Indian brains with the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, the production of which happiness chemicals moderate consumption of alcohol stimulates in the body, to make good times better, and bad times bearable. Cheers!

The above news was originally posted on news.google.com

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