Consider this: Fosters India has managed to corner around 2.5 per cent share of the Indian beer market. The Australian beer company has been around in the country for over six years.
Another mild beer brand Castle, the flagship brand of SAB Miller launched in 2000-01, is believed to have a share of just 0.25 per cent.
The reason: Indians prefer strong beer to mild beer. Strong beer accounts for 63 per cent of the 85 million case beer market. This is against the global trend of strong beer accounting for just 8-10 per cent of the market.
Some of the international beer brands such as Heineken, Corona and San Miguel, imported into the country too, have not been able to make a significant dent in the market.
According to industry sources, international beer brands sold through the import route have a negligible market share (0.01 per cent).
While international players are finding it difficult to make a dent in the market, the domestic beer companies with strong beer in their portfolio are growing, thanks to the customer preference for the stronger variety.
For instance, 85 per cent of the Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.5 billion) Millennium AlcoBev's turnover comes from its strong beers Zingaro, Kalyani Black Label, Bullet, Turbo and Marco Polo.
The leader in the strong beer category is Haywards 5000 from the SAB Miller-Shaw Wallace stable, with sales of 16 million cases. Next is Kingfisher Strong of United Breweries with 10 million cases. Millennium AlcoBev is expected to sell 11 million cases in 2004-05.
Says Vinod Giri, director-marketing, Shaw Wallace Breweries, "Share of strong beer in India has grown from less than 40 per cent to nearly 65 per cent over the past few years. This is because strong beer offers better value to consumers. Beer, by and large, is over-taxed in India and high prices have made it more of a premium product and hence less affordable compared to spirits."
Preference for the stronger stuff is not the only deterrent for the international beer companies. The heavy-duty structure is also one of the reasons why they have been shying away from investing in India.
Asia Pacific Breweries, maker of Singapore's top selling Tiger beer, is ramping up its investments in China, the largest beer market and may consider putting money in India as well.
Its chief executive Koh Poh Tiong had earlier said that the group may also invest in India though it was a "difficult market" because of duties imposed on beer trade between Indian states.
Diageo, which has Guinness Stout and Red Stripe beer brands in its portfolio, has no plans to launch them in India through its local arm United Distillers & Vintners.
Sources say, "Apart from consumer preferences, the strength of volumes also has to justify a presence in the beer market."Internationally, 65-70 per cent of all alcohol consumed is in the form of beer, while in India it is at seven per cent. With per capita consumption of around 600 ml as opposed to a global per capita consumption of 15 litres, India has the potential to be the second largest beer consumer in the world after China (240 million hectoliters, per capita 20 litres).