Four years ago, Keshav Prakash founded The Vault, a whisky-centric, import house representing over 30 small and independent distillers across the world. Last year, he organised The Vault Biennale, India’s first spirit biennale at Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi. The former adman has now made the spirits world his own. He talks to LuxeBook about the luxury market for international whiskies, consumers’ evolving tastes and the future of whiskies in the country.
“The next decade will be the golden era for premium whiskies.That’s when the experience-seeking millennials of today will become tomorrow’s whisky connoisseurs”
Keshav Prakash, Founder, The Vault
Where do international premium whisky brands stand in India today? Which ones are popular?
The reality is that the international premium whisky market in India is in a nascent stage. The well-travelled Indians are exposed to rare and luxury whiskies, but this audience is tiny. There are two things to consider here – the size and maturity of the market. There is a huge demand for Japanese whiskies, but that follows the blind demand for anything Japanese. We need to be more aware of pedigree Japanese single malts. This burst was led by Hibiki 21 and 18, which today are in short supply. We have the curious consumers and the connoisseurs. The experts know their stuff and they procure their collectibles from abroad.
What factors influence the whisky market in India?
Pricing is important in India. We have, both, the state and federal levies. Our market is also driven by what happens in London, Dubai and Singapore. These world cities are the first point of exposure for many Indian travellers. Consumers usually taste new whiskies here and if they like it, they seek it here.
What type of whiskies work well in India? Are whisky cocktails a thing?
While peated whiskies are marginally preferred, it is not an absolute trend. Women love their single malts, and thanks to them the market is growing phenomenally.
Whisky cocktails is a very American offering. While Indians prefer their whisky on the rocks, some also prefer it with soda, like the Highball in Japan. Single malt and scotch brands have never promoted their products for cocktails.
What kind of challenges are faced by international whisky brands in India and what can be done to resolve these?
The biggest problem that the international luxury whisky brands face is the different, state-specific trade regulations and controls. The five main markets for these whiskies are Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. But then again these are five different playgrounds when it comes to state regulations. It becomes a deterrent for small luxury brands to enter the market. So many different management, supply systems is not worth the effort for a small demand.
What kind of support do you expect from the government to ensure profitable growth of the whisky market?
What I would love to see for the alcohol market is the transition from state-levied VAT (Value Added Tax) to central-levied GST (Goods & Services tax), creating one common India market.
Do millennials feature in the luxury whisky market at all?
The real party for whiskies in India will begin 2020 onwards, when the millennials will be 30+ years old. They are relishing their white spirits right now, and the golden decade for India will begin when they will walk into this more advanced category.
Delhi Duty Free
Glenfiddich 40 YO – 70CL(LS) – Rs2,72,270 The Balvenie 40 Yo – 70CL – Rs3,22,430 Macallan No 6 43% – 70CL – Rs3,00,930 Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute – 70CL (LS) – Rs49,990 The Last Drop Release X 1971 – 75CL – Rs2,86,600
Source: Delhi Duty Free. Listed in no particular order
Sales Trends (Delhi)
At Delhi Duty Free Malt & Super Deluxe whisky is the fastest growing category.
The retail conglomerate has witnessed a growth rate of 20 per cent in the sales of premium, international spirits, which is mainly driven by whisky brands. The consumers’ shift to single malt is another factor driving the growth. “Customers are spending more than ever on premium whisky because these brands are now available in India, especially in Duty Free” says Abhijit Das, Head of Marketing, Delhi Duty Free. To meet the growing demand, the management has invested in training the sales staff from global experts, helping drive informed conversations and thus, more sales. Indian UNHIs are now looking at premium whiskies as collectibles and this is a big plus for high-value brands. The assurance of authentic purchases, directly from the source is also encouraging customers to buy from India.
These are high end premium whiskies catering to the tastes of seasoned travellers, selective and refined in their choice. Also, these brands are not easily available downtown, thereby making them even more popular and soughtafter, says Manishi Sanwal, CEO, Flemingo Travel Retail Ltd – Mumbai Duty Free. These whiskies are usually preferred by men (80 per cent). The shop, however, has also witnessed a substantial growth in the number of female buyers. Most customers are in the age group of 35 to 60 years. Over the years, Mumbai Duty Free has witnessed a shift in customers’ preference, from blended whiskies to single malts. They are also open to experimentation and are exploring newer brands.