The world’s best-selling Indian whisky brandsBy Kristiane Sherry
From buoyant brands to troubled trademarks, the Indian whisky category saw it all in 2015. But a select few managed to retain colossal volumes.
2015 was unarguably dominated by United Spirits’ internal woes and the infighting around since-dismissed chairman Vijay Mallya. Would he stay or would he go? We all know the outcome – but that uncertainty undoubtedly undermined the company’s performance, and indeed sales slipped 43% in the third quarter.
But while United Spirits dominates the sector, the company alone fails to tell the whole category story. John Distilleries’ Bangalore Malt Whisky entered the million-plus case selling club, scooping the Supreme Brand Champion accolade in the process, and Allied Blenders behemoth Officer’s Choice continued its charge. But Radico Khaitan posted mixed results across its portfolio.
With 2015 producing such a mixed bag, click through the following pages to discover the top 10 best-selling Indian whisky brands, listed in order of their nine-litre case sales.
% change: -4.65%
Place last year: 10
Radico Khaitan’s Indian whisky brand 8PM has been in decline since 2012 and last year saw its volume sales take yet another hit. A 4.65% decline means that 8PM has lost almost 800,000 cases in three years – a considerable sum that perhaps reflects the growing prevalence of international brands in its key domestic market. In 1999, 8PM made history by selling one million cases in the first 12 months since its launch.
9. Blenders Pride
% change: -16.18%
Place last year: 9
Pernod Ricard’s Indian whisky portfolio experienced considerable success in 2015, and Blenders Pride is no exception. The brand has been in consistent growth for a number of years, and celebrated double-digit gains in 2015. Described as a “key brand” for French drinks group Pernod Ricard, Blenders Pride holds 50% of the premium Indian whisky market in India.
8. Hayward’s Fine
% change: -37.20%
Place last year: 7
2015 was certainly not the best year for Haywards Fine – which saw the biggest decline of any million case-selling whisky brand. Losing a colossal four million cases last year, the brand fell from number seven to number eight. The performance of Haywards Fine will come as a blow to its parent company United Spirits, which has experienced a tumultuous 12 months, to put it lightly. Following the conclusion of an internal inquiry by Diageo – majority shareholder in USL – into the loss of £445m and a vote of no confidence by USL shareholders, chairman Vijay Mallya resigned from the group in February this year.
% change: -15.40%
Place last year: 8
United Spirits’ luck certainly didn’t improve with Bagpiper, which declined 15.40% in 2015. This marks a 50% decline compared to 2011 when the label shifted an enormous 16m cases and was in fourth position as the world’s best-selling Indian whisky brand. Following pressure from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), USL agreed to cease all exports of Bagpiper from 1 January 2016 due to concerns the brand’s name could mislead consumers into believing it is Scotch. It will be interesting to see whether a renewed focus on the domestic focus could boost sales, or if the lack of any international footprint will be the cause of further woe in 2016.
6. Original Choice
% change: +1.90%
Place last year: 6
Growth may have slowed for John Distilleries-owned Original Choice – the brand posted 5% volume gains in 2014 – but the brand has safely stood its ground. Prior to that supercharged year, Original Choice experienced steep declines, a fate successfully avoided over the past 12 months. While the brand has failed to close the gap on its fifth-placed competitor, it streaked ahead of rival Bagpiper, firmly cementing its spot as the sixth best-selling Indian whisky brand in the world.
5. Old Tavern
% change: +6.35%
Place last year: 5
Something of a cult brand in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, United Spirits’ Old Tavern rebounded from the 3% loss reported in 2014 to grow sales by 6.35%. The whisky’s popularity in some African markets was one driver behind the growth, where its well known for its affordability. While there remains a big jump to the fourth-placed whisky, as those key emerging markets continue to develop, expect Old Tavern to capitalise.
4. Royal Stag
% change: +7.72%
Place last year: 3
Pernod Ricard’s second-largest spirit brand Royal Stag may have seen growth slow in 2015, but at 7.72%, it’s hardly sluggish. Created in 1995 from a blend of Indian spirits and imported Scottish malt, Royal Stag was thought to be the first domestic Indian whisky brand produced without artificial flavourings. The brand might have slipped one spot to fourth, but it’s through no fault of its own – a certain Pernod Ricard sibling continued a somewhat remarkable rise…
3. Imperial Blue
% change: +24.47%
Place last year: 4
Stealing the Pernod Ricard crown from Royal Stag in 2015 was Imperial Blue. Having more than doubled sales in just three years, the brand’s volume sales soared 24.47% in 2015. If it continues to expand at that rate, the brand could become the second-largest Indian whisky brand in the world in just 18 months. Pernod sought to protect its crown jewel in November 2015, winning a legal battle against Indian company Rhizome Distilleries for the removal of Rhizome’s Imperial Gold whisky from the trademark registry.
2. McDowell’s No. 1
% change: -0.52%
Place last year: 2
While United Spirits’ McDowell’s No.1 was the world’s largest Indian whisky brand a mere four years ago, 2015 saw much more space created between the whisky and its nearest rival in the top spot. Sales of McDowell’s remained relatively flat after at least five years of consistent and rapid growth, and USL certainly has its work cut out to rebuild the brand in the year ahead. At the same time as announcing it had ceased exports of Bagpiper, the group also said it would change the name of McDowell’s No.1 in markets outside of India following the SWA’s concern that consumers may believe the brand to be Scotch. Currently, only 2.6% of McDowell’s No.1 is sold abroad.
% change: +15.76%
Place last year: 1
The largest Indian whisky brand in the world since 2013, Allied Blenders’ Officer’s Choice continues to lead the charge, notching up rapid 15.76% growth from a high base in 2015. The brand’s performance and its solid 40% market share in the Indian market helped boost its parent company’s 2015 fiscal sales to the tune of 12%. In addition to the standard expression, super-premium extension Officer’s Choice Black also surely underpinned the emphatic growth. With the gap between first and second-ranked Indian whisky brands widening, it seems Officer’s Choice is set to dominate the category for years to come.