Indian Whisky Brand Champion 2019: Sterling Reserve

According to Ahmed Rahimtoola, head of marketing at Allied Blenders & Distillers (ABD), Sterling Reserve “surpassed all expectations” when it achieved sales of more than 1m cases in its first nine months of operation. The brand launched in the last quarter of the 2017 calendar year, recording sales of 36,000 cases. By the end of 2018, this figure had rocketed to 1.21m cases.

“The resounding success of Sterling Reserve in its very first year of launch has given us a lot of confidence about its future,” says Rahimtoola. “We are [targeting] 10% share of the semi-­premium whisky segment and 5% share of the premium whisky segment in the coming year. We will invariably work to make it one of the world’s bigger Indian whiskies in the long term.”

The brand was launched to tap into India’s thirst for more premium drinks. Its range consists of two blended expressions, both made with imported Scotch malt whiskies and Indian grain whiskies. The products sit in different price tiers: while Sterling Reserve B10 resides in the premium segment, Sterling Reserve B7 is described as “semi-­premium”. According to Rahimtoola, both segments “deliver handsomely in terms of profits”.

Now ABD is aiming to “create a brand world” for Sterling Reserve across television, radio, print, out of home and digital, while also investing in increasing its visibility with consumers and engaging with trade partners. The brand enables ABD to offer a greater ladder of products, joining ‘standard’ Officer’s Choice and ‘deluxe’ Officer’s Choice Blue in the firm’s portfolio. “ABD has been able to carve out a dominant position in the whisky category in the country [India] and will continue to grow its presence,” adds Rahimtoola.

Officer’s Choice remains the world’s best­-selling Indian whisky brand, shifting 34m cases in 2018 – a 6.3% increase. Bangalore Malt Whisky also deserves a special mention for its rapid 44.3% volume growth, smashing through the 5m case barrier. Imperial Blue is another brand that was able to build on already massive volumes in 2018 to exceed sales of 20m cases for the first time ever.

The broader Indian whisky category experienced a solid year in 2018, with the majority of brands reporting double­-digit growth. The environment is now normalising following the impact of demonetisation, state­-specific prohibition measures, and the so­-called ‘highway ban’ on liquor sales.

With growth in the category now being driven by premium players, it will be interesting to see how the Indian whisky landscape evolves in the future.

*The Brand Champions data is listed to one decimal place for ease of reading, but the percentage changes are based on the full data supplied. All brand data is supplied in millions of nine-­litre cases.

Indian whisky (figures: million 9l case sales)

BRAND OWNER 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 %+/-
Officer’s Choice Whisky Allied Blenders & Distillers 28.4 32.9 32.9 32.0 34.0 6.3%
McDowell’s No.1 Whisky United Spirits 13.4 25.7 26.6 26.4 29.0 10.0%
Imperial Blue Pernod Ricard 14.1 17.5 18.0 19.0 22.7 19.3%
Royal Stag Pernod Ricard 16.1 17.3 18.0 18.7 21.6 15.5%
Original Choice John Distilleries 10.6 10.7 10.1 10.3 11.5 12.0%
Hayward’s Fine United Spirits 4.8 7.1 7.9 8.5 9.4 10.2%
8PM Radico Khaitan 4.3 4.1 5.7 7.0 8.2 16.5%
Blenders Pride Pernod Ricard 4.8 5.6 6.2 6.4 7.3 15.1%
Old Tavern United Spirits 5.5 11.0 9.9 7.1 6.2 -13.1%
Bagpiper United Spirits 3.7 7.3 7.2 5.8 5.6 -4.0%
Royal Challenge United Spirits 1.4 3.6 4.7 4.5 5.6 22.7%
Bangalore Malt Whisky John Distilleries 0.8 1.1 2.1 3.6 5.2 44.3%
Director’s Special Whisky United Spirits 2.9 5.0 5.0 4.1 4.2 1.2%
Signature Whisky United Spirits 0.9 1.5 1.8 2.0 2.3 12.4%
White & Blue Alcobrew 0.4 1.2 1.4 1.6 2.1 31.9%
Sterling Reserve Premium Whiskies Allied Blenders & Distillers N/A N/A N/A N/A 1.2 N/A

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