While USL hasn’t tweaked the alcohol content to make the new product less potent, there could be a consumer perception of it being a tempered down whiskey.
United Spirits, India’s largest spirits firm, is launching the country’s first homegrown flavoured whiskey to target beer drinkers who find the regular drink too strong or overwhelming. The new brand — Silk, a honey-flavoured drink under the McDowell’s portfolio — is the first product launch after Diageo acquired USL about four years ago.
“A significant portion of beer drinkers actually never embrace whiskey, because they found the whisky taste to be unpalatable. These consumers like the sophistication of whiskey, but they find the taste to be either strong or harsh and never embrace whiskey as a drink for those lighter social occasions,” said Amrit Thomas, chief marketing officer at USL.
For British parent Diageo, the innovation portfolio rose to £1.5 billion in global sales in 2015 from £700 million in 2010. The Indian unit wants to mirror that. “USL aims to get about 20 per cent of its sales from new product launches and another 30 per cent by renovating existing brands by 2020,” Thomas added. Over 180 people are employed in dedicated innovation roles around the world for Diageo with 15 executives stationed in India.
While USL hasn’t tweaked the alcohol content to make the new product less potent, there could be a consumer perception of it being a tempered down whiskey version, said experts. “Flavoured whiskey has met with modest to high level of success globally. In India, the challenge could be changing the mindset of youth in accepting a flavoured whiskey,” said Sandeep Arora, a whiskey connoisseur, and director of Spiritual Luxury Living, a luxury spirits and whiskey management company.
At a 10 per cent premium, the new brand will hit the market by early next year and is being currently test-marketed in a few states. McDowell’s is the largest brand within Diageo’s portfolio by volume, with annual sales of 26.4 nine-litre cases in 2015.The company hopes to achieve 5 per cent of the brand sales from the flavoured variant.