United Breweries (UB) and SABMiller, the country’s biggest beer companies, are engaged in a frothy battle over market leadership of their respective brands. UB claims its Kingfisher Strong has consolidated its position as the largest selling beer brand, having sold 95 lakh cases in the first quarter of the current fiscal, while SABMiller says its Haywards 5000 has reclaimed leadership in the same period.
According to SABMiller, its Haywards 5000 sold 88 lakh cases in the first quarter of this year, against Kingfisher Strong’s 87 lakh cases. When contacted, SABMiller’s director (corporate affairs) Sundeep Kumar said: “Haywards 5000 has outsold Kingfisher Strong by one lakh cases.” But UB’s executive V-P (sales & marketing) Shekhar Ramamurthy begs to differ.
“We have been ahead of Haywards 5000 for several quarters now. We believe we had a substantial lead over them in FY07. In Q1, we are ahead by over a million cases,” he told ET. In FY07, Kingfisher Strong reported a volume depletion of 26 million cases, which the company said was well ahead of Haywards 5000. SABMiller did not divulge standalone volume figures for Haywards 5000 during FY07 but said its entire portfolio of strong beers sold about 35 million cases.
Kingfisher had replaced Haywards 5000 as the country’s biggest beer brand last year, ending the latter’s decade-long run at the top. SABMiller-controlled Shaw Wallace Breweries had been dominating the strong beer market since the mid-1990s. In fact, UB was forced to extend its flagship premium lager Kingfisher into the strong segment as domestic consumption reported significant migration towards strong beer.
While a SABMiller official admitted Kingfisher Strong overtook Haywards 5000 last year, he added that Haywards had regained the top spot in this quarter. Besides Haywards 5000, the other strong beer brand in SABMiller’s portfolio is Knock Out. It also has some regional labels in its kitty. Besides Kingfisher Strong, other strong beers in UB’s basket include Bullet, Zingaro and Kalyani Black Label Strong.
Strong beers now account for 68% of Indian beer consumption, which is a complete reversal of the market dynamics in the mid-1990s. Strong beer has an alcohol content of 6% or more. India’s beer volumes are estimated at 132-136 million cases. In recent months, the beer market has been frothing with action, with a spate of global majors, such as Heineken, Carlsberg, Budweiser and Beck’s, fine-tuning their India strategies. According to industry estimates, beer sales grew 27% in 2006-07.