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No China, no problem, Bira secures $30 million bridge funding

Sumant Banerji     April 25, 2020

Domestic craft beer maker Bira 91 has secured a $30 million bridge funding led by existing investors Sequoia India and Sofina at a time when funding for startups in India is expected to come under a cloud due to government's fresh curbs on investments from China.

A Reuters report earlier this week had said Bira's attempt at raising funds may suffer and get delayed as it involved investors from China. Last Saturday, India tightened FDI norms to prevent any opportunistic takeover by Chinese firms. Market regulator SEBI is also expected to tighten norms for FII and FPI investments from across the border soon.

Bira said the existing round of fund raising involved leading consumer fund Sixth Sense and Korean private equity fund Neoplux besides Sequoia and Sofina. The $30m equity will be utilised by the company to expand its India footprint and consolidate its leadership position in the premium beer market in the country. It has already expanded its presence in the country to 400 cities in 2019-20 from just 50 cities in 2018-19.

"We continue to grow our business in both existing and new markets. Our market shares in several markets are now higher than 5 percent of overall beer, and more than 20 percent share of premium beer," said Ankur Jain, founder and chief executive officer, Bira 91. "Along with Boom, our other new launches of Bira 91 IPA with Pomelo and the Malabar Stout have been well received. 2020 is a key inflection point for the company where we expect to reach double digit market shares in a number of states through the year."

Chinese investors led by Alibaba, Tencent and Ant Financial have over the last few years made a flurry of investments in Indian startups including unicorns like Paytm, Bigbasket, Zomato, Swiggy, Oyo Rooms and Ola. According to Venture Intelligence, investors from China pumped in $3.9 billion in Indian startups in 2019 alone, which was nearly double of $2.04 billion in 2018.

"Bira has created a unique position for itself in the Indian beer market with its premium appeal and it has evinced significant interest from investors. That includes those from China," said an industry insider. "Some of them were on the negotiating table but this round did not hinge on them alone."

India is world's third largest alcohol market and beer the second most consumed beverage in the segment after whisky. Sale of craft beers, a relatively new category, is growing at a faster clip of 20 percent every year as compared to overall growth in beer of 5-7 percent.

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