India. Maharashtra alcohol makers to slash output

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Brewers and distillers in the Aurangabad belt of Maharashtra are expected to slash production, in the wake of the Bench of the high court directing the state government to impose a 60 per cent water cut on them between April 27 and June 10.

The Aurangabad cluster happens to be a key one for alcoholic beverage makers, as are Alwar in Rajasthan and Medak in Telangana. There are 16 distilleries and breweries in the Aurangabad belt, including those of Carlsberg, SABMiller, United Breweries (UB), United Spirits Ltd (USL), and Radico Khaitan.

While Carlsberg, USL, and Radico Khaitan were not available for comments, a spokesperson for SABMiller India said, “We are following all directions laid down by the authorities to manage the situation. In Aurangabad, as in our other operations, we are adopting innovative technologies and implementing best practices to reduce, re-use and recycle the water.” An email to UB got no response till the time of going to press.

Sector sources say a production cut is imminent, as it takes five litres of water to produce a litre of beer. A 60 per cent cut, they say, will cripple production, especially during the peak summer season when capacities normally run full steam. Typically, beer makers derive a third of annual sales during summer.

The Indian beer market in terms of volume sales is estimated to be 284-285 million cases. One case consists of 12 bottles of 650 ml each. UB, SABMiller, and Carlsberg are the top three in India, with an estimated market share of 52 per cent, 27 per cent, and 15 per cent, respectively.

Alcohol and beverage makers privately say they are soft targets, owing to the negative perception of the business. “There are other heavy users of industrial water but I don’t think the attention is on them to the extent it is on us,” said a senior official of a top beer company. Some of the other heavy users of industrial water in India include thermal power plants, cement, iron and steel units, bottled water and soft drinks, and apparel.

While some breweries are believed to be sourcing water from tankers for now, this is unlikely to be sustainable for long.