Chairman Ramesh Chauhan might not delve much on the valuation of Bisleri – the largest packaged drinking company in India – that he aims to sell to Tata Consumer Products, but that is not to say that its valuation has not grown by leaps and bounds. Bisleri is estimated to be sold to the Tatas for a cool Rs 6,000-7,000 crore – a far cry from the Rs 4 lakh that the Chauhans paid in 1969.
Bisleri was an Italian company, established by Felice Bisleri in 1965, which is also the year he brought it to India. When the Chauhans-led Parle Exports bought the company from the Italian businessman in 1969, he was merely 28 years old. He was looking for a branded soda to complete his portfolio and bottled drinking water was the last thing on his mind.
Chauhan is credited for creating a category from scratch. Bisleri was launched in India in glass bottles and in two variants, Bubbly and Still. In a 2008 interview with Business Today, Chauhan said that they already had popular brands in the portfolio like Gold Spot but no soda.
“We had brands such as Gold Spot but no soda; in the late ’60s and early ’70s there was good demand for soda from five-star hotels. Bisleri Soda was popular, which is why I bought out the company. But we did not even look at the water business then,” he had said. His focus turned to the bottled water industry only in 1993, which is when he sold off his cold drinks portfolio to Coca-Cola for Rs 186 crore.
In the initial days, transporters were not very keen on transporting water as it was a heavy but low-priced product. So Chauhan decided that the company must transport the water themselves. From then on, Bisleri now has 4,500 distributors and 5,000 trucks transporting the water bottles.
Bisleri in the early 2000s was in stiff competition with Tata’s Mount Everest Mineral Water under the Himalayan brand, along with competitors like Aquafina, Kinley. But unlike competitors like Coca-Cola (Kinley), Pepsico (Aquafina), Kingfisher, and Nestle, Chauhan’s business was a flagship one, and not just another business.
In a 2007 interview with Economic Times, Chauhan said that there were no brands that offered better value, packaging or distribution to the customer. “In any business, success is determined by the USP of the product and the first-mover advantage. If you come in second or third, you better have a differentiator. I have been a first-mover and I have struggled to build my brand,” he had said.
When asked why he sold his cold drinks portfolio, he said that he never had the money to advertise brands like Maaza, Citra, Gold Spot and Rim-Zim, and that he was too dependent on the bottlers, which is something he changed with Bisleri.
But now due to his failing health, and his daughter Jayanti’s lack of interest in the business, Chauhan wants to sell off the company to Tata Consumer Products. He said that parting with Bisleri is a painful decision but believes that Tatas would take great care of it.
As he has no intention of running the company, Chauhan said that he would not keep a minority stake, but would rather invest in environmental and charitable causes.
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