By Raunak Haldipur
Ankur Jain, the owner of Bira 91, completed his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago to begin his entrepreneurial journey through a healthcare information startup in India. He started a company called Cerana Beverages in 2009 that imported premium craft beer brands from Belgium, Germany and the United States and marketed them in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, in 330 ml bottles. Cerana Beverages—now known as B9 Beverages, is an import and distribution company which owns India’s first and largest draft beer dispense network in restaurants and bars. It imports and distributes a portfolio covering major beer styles and more than 20 brands.
The history of Bira 91
Upon recognising the potential of beer business in India’s growing market, Ankur decided to pivot in the brewing industry to establish his startup. The first three years after returning to India, Jain spent his time understanding the beer market, taking trips to Europe to understand the different exotic beers available and to choose the one for the Indian audience. After learning the intricate details of the beers, he decided to specialise in craft beer and make it the business of his choice.
Craft beer is made in a traditional or non-mechanised way by a small brewery. In 2014-15, India consumed about 270 million cases of beer among which craft beers—including microbreweries, made up only one percent of the market. The overall market was dominated by UB. Jain recognised the opportunity in the growing market and in 2014, raised a seed funding of $1 million from six of his close contacts to expand the business and launch his own bottled craft beer. Finally, in 2015 he formally launched it under the name of Bira91 through the Belgian Ambassador to India, Mr Jan Luykx, in an event that was attended by over 500 guests.
The branding strategy of Bira
Initially, the beer brand was to be called “Biru”. Biru is the generic name for beer in Japan. However, after a registration problem in Japan, Ankur decided to call it Bira. His team spent almost nine months in the branding exercise, including picking a name, mascot, colours, and the other aspects of packaging. Bira means brother in the north of India. Quoting Ankur Jain,“Bira is a name that could come from anywhere, and yet has that Indian appeal. We did not want to be a narrow ethnic brand. The idea was to present India in a modern and contemporary fashion.”
91 is the country code of India and it made it sound more distinctive. The reverse B, according to them, is a spirit of rebellion against the conventional beers available in the market. The mascot is a monkey because most of us have a monkey, a metaphor for the wild side inside us. Thus the name “Bira91” with a monkey on its label was crafted. According to Jain, much of the early success of Bira could be credited to the design of the product. Bira91 was manufactured and packed in Belgium and then imported to India. They even signed up a Belgian brewmaster to help design the recipes.
Target audience and marketing strategies
Bira 91 was made available in two flavours, Bira White Ale and Bira Blonde Lager. The Bira White Ale is a variant of wheat beer, with mild bitterness and a soft finish. It has a taste that is sweeter and citrusy than normal beer. The Bira Blonde Lager, on the other hand, is a more conventional type of beer. It is found to be extra malty with a delicate aroma and little bitterness.
Bira 91 was selling beers that were never seen before in the market; neither in colour nor in taste. Their aim was to fill the gap in the market for an unorthodox, unconventional and fun brand of beer. Their target audience, the youth of the nation was solely their inspiration while coming up with the design. To successfully get to this audience, their strategies were pretty direct and simple. Since direct alcohol ads are banned in India, they focused only on distribution. They refrained from using any kind of marketing campaign or surrogate tricks. Instead, what they did was made their brand available in a few pubs and the rest is history. They gained a 30% share in the premium segment without incurring any expenses on traditional marketing strategies.
The future of Bira
For now, even as Bira 91 transitions itself from being brewed in Belgium to being brewed in India, which comes with its own risks, Jain is chasing two goals; he wants Bira 91 to emerge as a leading brand in the premium beer category in India and an established Indian consumer beer brand with a global footprint, all by 2020.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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