India’s whiskies may be topping the tasting charts, but their exports are yet to take off with several factors holding up growth including robust domestic demand.
Whisky exports in FY23 were just 10% higher in value from a decade ago while imports have surged nearly four times during this period. To be sure, whisky exports were 18% higher in the first five months of the current fiscal year from the corresponding period a year ago.
In October, locally made Indri Diwali Collector’s Edition won the Best in Show Double Gold award at the Whiskies of the World Awards. However, officials said India is yet to leverage the opportunity afforded by this and the high regard garnered by others such as Amrut Distilleries’ Fusion and Paul John’s Brilliance, Bold and Nirvana.
“Indian whisky is not much in demand outside, and domestic demand is robust, so the export opportunity hasn’t been exploited to the fullest,” said an official.
In FY23, for instance, India’s whisky exports at $124 million were just 10% higher than $112.4 million in FY14, but lower than the $127.8 million exported during the pandemic.
For whisky, age is more than Just a number
Imports, on the other hand, have seen a surge.
India imported whisky worth $396.3 million in FY23, up from $108.7 million in FY14.
The largest share was of blended whiskies, accounting for 40% of the market. Other whiskies had a 29% share. Scotch had a 20% share followed by a marginal slice for bourbon.
The UK, Singapore and the UAE are the top import sources.
Experts said that tough requirements from western nations may also be holding back growth.
“India’s export opportunity is limited to a certain set of countries in the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. Maturation conditions imposed by a large part of the European Union are inherent limitations to our exports,” said Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) director general Vinod Giri.
The maturation requirement demands that whisky be aged for three years, but in warm climates like India, evaporation losses are high, cutting short this period.
Giri added that relatively lower-value Indian rum and whisky are in demand in these countries. While single malt and high-end products get sold at $50-60 per case, on a par with Scotch whisky, lower-value products are sold at $10-20 a case, he noted.
The maximum retail price of Indian blended whiskies is Rs 750-1,700 per 750 ml, while imported ones cost Rs 1,400-3,000. Among malt whiskies, both Scotch and Indian variants cost Rs 3,630-4,500.
“Japanese whisky brands are also being preferred by Indian consumers and many independent importers are entering the market,” Giri added.
Industry representatives said local factors also seem to be holding back growth.
Certain states charge a fee on the export of alcoholic beverages, they said. Moreover, non-tariff barriers challenge India’s exports to the EU and UK. A significant barrier is the requirement of grain-based spirit, something that Indian companies can’t fulfil as liquor here is made from molasses due to high sugar production, they explained.