Bishan Kumar

As sparkling wine is catching the fancy of wine lovers the world over, it is expected that the global sparkling wine consumption will continue its rise. Wine experts believe that by 2019, the consumption of sparkling wine worldwide will reach 2.7 billion bottles.  The expected growth of sparkling wine has also encouraged countries such as England, Belgium, and of course India, which haven’t been well- known  for  their  winemaking  tradition, to enter the sparkling wine production arena.

India remains an extremely small market for wines and sparkling wines, which constitute hardly 10 per cent of the total alcohol consumption in the country. The good news, though, is that the total wine consumption in India is increasing at 18-20 per cent annually and with a growing number of new drinkers, this rise is expected to be accelerated further.

India’s romance with sparkling wine started not much long ago. It was in 1988 that the now-defunct Indage Vintners produced Marquis de Pompadour Brut NV and re-christened it Omar Khayyam for  the  export  market.  The  company went into a bad phase and its wines could not do much. It was only after the entry of Sula Vineyards in the year 2000 that sparkling wine got a new face and new recognition in India. The bubbly got a further boost with the introduction of new labels by other companies such as Grover Zampa Vineyards, York Winery, Four   Seasons,   Fratelli   Wines,   and now, Chandon India, the Nashik-based sparkling wine-producing estate of Moet & Chandon.

Wine drinking trends in India indicate that the traditional wine regions, famous for sparkling wines, continue to expand in India in response to the growing demand. Other than champagne, prosecco, cava and other sparkling wines from Australia and California are also firmly rooted in the domestic turf. Their sales are low but growing, albeit slowly.

The journey for sparkling wines in India has not been easy. All sparkling wine makers are facing serious challenges in India in achieving higher sales.   These challenges are different here than in the more established markets.

Normally, the traditional  approach to launching luxury products, such as champagne, was to go aggressive with marketing, invest in distribution and then fight for domination. In many emerging markets, this approach is so resource intensive and risky that it is untenable as a strategy. For example in India, with its population of 1.3 billion, and the barriers to entry being so high, it is clear that the approach needs to be more targeted and refined.

Another major difference is that in emerging markets, most consumers still don’t naturally associate celebrations with sparkling wine as they do in so many established markets. They may have seen westerners popping celebratory champagne in films or on TV, but it’s not something that’s ingrained in their own culture.

Pricing is also extremely important in India. Only a niche class goes for luxury brands; most others opt for good quality, low-priced wines. Indian sparkling wines can do really well in this market, provided they offer good quality at low price. The growth of prosecco and cava generally as against champagne confirms that price does matter.

Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO, Grover Zampa Vineyards, who knows this segment   well,   opines   that   sparkling wines, irrespective of  their  origin,  will sell for between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 because of competition. This surely is a success mantra for wine companies.

The time is ripe for sparkling wine category’s growth in India. The rapid increase    in    the    urban    population, rising disposable income and growing preference for categories other than whiskies are expected to  create avenues for growth of the wine market in India. Changing demographics is further expected to boost the Indian alcohol market. More than one-half of the country’s population (53 per cent) is above the age of 25 and are looking for newer experiences, not following in the footsteps of their parents, who were traditionally whisky lovers.

If sparkling wine is to be relevant to India lifestyles, marketers have to make it attractive to this age band. A different strategy is needed for the Indian market. It is also important to remove the tag that sparkling wine is only a celebratory drink; it has to be promoted heavily as an everyday, all-occasions drink to make it a must item on the shopping list of every Indian middle-class family.

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