Michael Norgaard Jensen, MD, Carlsberg India, talks to Sumant Banerji about tackling uncertainties in the domestic liquor industry.
How is the alcohol industry contributing to the government's 'Make in India' idea?
It is a great idea, but the foundation of that is predictability. You cannot have laws coming in left, right and centre constantly. That makes investments too much of a gamble. India is one of the most complicated markets in the world; a bit like managing all of Europe before 1972. To uncomplicate, we concentrate only on a few key cities. We pick a state in India and treat it with a piecemeal approach.
How has the prohibition in a few states affected the industry? How do you counter the clamour for a complete ban in more states?
Prohibition has not helped in curbing alcohol consumption. If you make things difficult to access then the 'forbidden fruit syndrome' comes into effect. If the government wants to put a curb on it, fine; but create a difference between liquor and wine or beer; promote responsible drinking. You need to drink lots of beer to get sloshed, but with hard liquor, it's easy. And your taxation is promoting the latter, instead of the former. Bihar is a political experiment. It is not the right solution. It's far easier to regulate smartly, which the government did earlier.
Did you have to adapt to India's different preferences in beer?
The beer we sell here is adapted to the Indian palate. An average Indian does not like to have too bitter a beer unlike a European. The main ingredients of beer are the same across the world, but how much hops we put in or how much bitter it is, varies. The bias towards strong beer with high alcohol content is not new. Some East European markets have beers that have even higher alcohol content, but calling a beer strong or light is unique to India.