India. Andhra policy change to give SABMiller a chance to regain number one slot

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SABMiller, the second-largest brewer in India, will get a chance to regain its number one slot in the country’s largest beer market when Andhra Pradesh revokes a policy flip-flop that allowed United Breweries race to the top.

The state has decided to end the policy of placing beer orders in line with national market share of different companies, which it introduced last year. It will go back to procuring beer based on consumer preferences in the state from September 1.

Unlike other consumer products, liquor is a state subject.

Andhra Pradesh Beverage Corporation started placing purchase orders based on national demand following a government order in May 2010 that observed that the top two players held 93-95% share in the state’s beer market compared to around three-fourths share in other states.

While the idea was to end the duopoly in the market and create more new room for smaller brewers, the policy mostly helped Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries, maker of Kingfisher beer, extend its national leadership to Andhra Pradesh.

Analysts now expect the maker of Kingfisher, Sand Piper and London Pilsner beer to hold on to the top slot even after Andhra Pradesh goes back to old purchasing system.

“SABMiller will regain some market share with the policy reversal but I would not be surprised if UB retains leadership in the state,” Abneesh Roy, associate director-research at Edelweiss Financial Services, said.

This is because United Breweries now holds double the market share of SABMiller, maker of Fosters, Haywards and Royal Challenge beer, in Andhra Pradesh. UB had almost 60% share in the first quarter ended June.

Their combined share, however, dipped only 5% as smaller brewers such as Carlsberg, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Lilasons, Artos Breweries and Som Breweries increased their market share to 12% from 7%.

This is what has prompted the state to revoke its contentious procurement policy. In a recent order, the Andhra Pradesh government said it received representations that consumer preferences at the national level need not be imposed on those in the state, and that there was only marginal success in achieving the stated objectives of ending the duopoly and encouraging competition.

SABMiller India Director-Marketing Derek Jones said restoration of the beer policy augurs well for the company. “The government order allows the Andhra Pradesh consumer to choose, a principal we support,” he said.

But UB is confident of holding on to its volume share in the state, United Breweries Deputy President Shekhar Ramamurthy said. “As with any policy change nothing can happen in a year. At the same time, the increase in share of smaller players from 7% to 12% is itself a success,” he said.

Smaller players’ reaction to the development is mixed.

Molson Coors Cobra Beer India President Ravi Kaza said: “If the government wants multiple players it should give smaller brewers a longer shot at it.” He, however, felt it would be tough for SABMiller to win back market share because consumers would have moved on.

The company plans to launch Cobra Premium and King Cobra beer in Andhra Pradesh next month. Danish brewer Carlsberg said it can compete well on any procurement policy.

Carlsberg India Managing Director Soren Lauridsen said the maker of Carlsberg, Tuborg, Palone and Elephant beer has had a 4.5% market share in Andhra Pradesh in the first half of the calendar year, up from just 1% a year earlier.

He attributed this to the introduction of Tuborg Strong beer, opening up of a brewery and setting of a sales team in the state over the past year.