Shreyas Kulkarni

Bacardi seeks to serve some 'Legacy' with its first-ever made-in-India whisky

India marketing director Zeenah Vilcassim opens up on the spirit company's fresh foray into the brown spirits category.

If whisky is the nectar of life, then India should be the largest swarm of bees you will come across on any single day.

Peek into any pub or bar and you are sure to spot a bottle of the brown spirit on every second table. Duty-free liquor stores place top-shelf whisky brands on the front shelf for easy visibility.

And in what is hard evidence, news poured in a day ago about India tipping France to become the world's biggest market for scotch whisky by volume "with a 60% hike in imports in 2022 over the previous year, according to figures from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA)," as per The Times of India.

India’s thirst for the brown spirit is insatiable.

And joining the multitude of brands, since September 2022, in quenching this thirst is Bacardi’s — a company known for its white spirits — Legacy, a made-in-India whisky.

To enter a market which is “98% whisky” was necessary, says Zeenah Vilcassim, if Bacardi India had to fulfill its 2030 strategy to “profitably grow our business by five times.” She is the Bacardi India marketing director.

Whisky drinkers are loyalists; they hardly change their malt of choice. However, the category which still plays on traditional whisky tropes such as the aspiration of Scotland and Europe falls into Bacardi India’s favour.

Bacardi seeks to serve some 'Legacy' with its first-ever made-in-India whisky

Consumer research revealed aspirations and success for today’s India have changed. Moving to the UK or the US is not the most aspirational thing, staying in India and making an impact is what matters.

“That was a huge white space for us,” remarks Vilcassim and reveals the company created Legacy to premiumize the category with a focus on Indian malts, Scottish malts, and Indian grains; the hierarchy of ingredients inside the Legacy liquid.

Bacardi India, in phase one of Legacy, launched it in Maharashtra followed by Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh. The primary focus was on distribution, phase two has set its sights on sampling at scale.

It is one thing to launch a premium product but to then scale it is quite the balancing act. “It is an on-trade and off-trade play,” replies the marketing director.

“You launch a seed model on-trade (consumption in bars, restaurants, hotels) create hype and buzz around it, and then it slowly builds the category over time,” she explains.

Bacardi seeks to serve some 'Legacy' with its first-ever made-in-India whisky

Bacardi India has launched 180ml, 275ml, and 750ml variants as well as a nip which the company will “push in the off-trade (retail outlets) and push sampling it in the on-trade to get the scale we need.” The target consumer for Bacardi India’s Legacy is the 25–45-year-old who already drinks premium Indian whisky products.

A key trend, she has observed is the drink less, drink better mentality. “You have 25-year-olds aware of what botanicals are in a gin and they are educating around what they're trying, how they're trying, and that is an opportunity for us…”

Reaching this target group is easier said than done considering the restrictions on alcohol advertising in the country. Bacardi India, says Vilcassim, “will focus a lot on sponsorship opportunities, and a separate platform (think NH7 Weekender or Breezer Vivid Shuffle) which will focus on the liquid and what we want to achieve from a brand platform at scale.”

When asked if branded IPs like concerts are the go-to choice for Bacardi India because of the growing number of cord-cutters and the waning of digital experiences like the metaverse, she was quick to say that it is not an either-or strategy. Growth of virtual events or OTT platforms has not died, it has petered a bit, she says.

Vilcassim is clear that brands have to understand “the marketing mix for consumers has expanded and they have to ensure their messaging is not disrupting consumers’ scroll but adding value to it.”

One way to add value is the use of influencers which she says Bacardi has pioneered. While the space has proliferated a lot recently, “it has become a bit opaquer in terms of understanding the ROI from it,” she confesses.

She is clear about what influencers are for Bacardi India which is influential people having an authentic and credible voice for their community. The company leverages them pushing forward conversations and culture… “we're not asking them to be 90% of our marketing mix and trying to get everything done with them.”

Bacardi India works with influencers for its brand extensions and its advocacy team, built in India over the last two years, works on educating consumers about responsible consumption and myth-busting alcohol taboos.

And as it goes about its way, Vilcassim makes an interesting point on how legacy in India and around the world is something you look back on, the success you had, as opposed to, “flipping it on its head and seeing legacy as something you will create in the future.” The latter is what she intends to do with Legacy.

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