Life & Style

Bira 91 goes to Britain

In foreign climes Ankur Jain and the Bira 91 brand in London

In foreign climes Ankur Jain and the Bira 91 brand in London  

In a five-year partnership with the International Cricket Council, the India-at-heart beer company takes on two world cups, now in the UK, and four years later, in India

We stand under a large tent at the British High Commissioner’s residence, in sweltering Delhi weather. The oversized screen plays out the India-England cricket match, the coolers giving some relief, the beer a lot more. It’s an irony that’s not lost on most, even if no one articulates it, because the only beer that’s being served on this little bit of British soil is Bira 91.

Originally named after the Punjabi word for brother, Bira, the 91 is derived from the country code you dial for India. Ankur Jain, founder-CEO, describes the beer as “smart and fun at the same time, but not pretentiously so.” ‘Can’t be a Delhi-ite,’ I think, as he says it, though the brand debuted in Hauz Khas Village.

Bira 91 goes to Britain

From the once-quaint alleyways surrounding a medieval monument and lake in the Capital, Bira is now at The Oval, at Lord’s, at Old Trafford, as the official beer being served at the cricket world cup. The brand launched in the UK with the event, having signed a partnership with the International Cricket Council for the next five years. This means they’re the exclusive beer poured at this year’s event as well as the next world cup, in India, and other tournaments: all formats of the game and some women’s matches as well.

Besides the in-stadium branding, seen on screen (for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to make it there), there’s also what marketeers call activation: live spaces that bring alive the brand (they serve beer, sell merchandise, offer face tattoos). There’s a beer garden at all India and England matches and partnerships with bars and restaurants screening the world cup in India and England. Plus there’s the ‘digital amplification’ because you can’t go far without it, especially with a product that’s meant to be “not too serious”, with its inverted B and monkey logo.

“The intent is to speak the language of this generation of consumers, and also have a really active conversation with them,” says Ankur, of people in their 20s and 30s, who drink for taste, and the enjoyment of an experience. Bira, a craft beer, came at a time (in 2015) when a new generation of drinkers had entered bars: they weren’t looking at the alcohol content on the bottle, and were perhaps happier drinking less even if at a higher price. Ankur cites the change across other categories, like coffee. Today, he says, “Premium is taking away share from the mass-market segment. Volumes are going up five to seven per cent year on year; premium by 20%.”

He says they went keg-first into neighbourhoods, connecting with people. “Over the last two or three years we’ve discovered pillars we’re executing on: food, music, and now cricket.”

Bira 91 goes to Britain

The April Fools’ Fest in Delhi this year, for instance, featured entertainment (music, comedy) with food and beer. With seven variants, there’s something for everyone, and in February this year Boom was introduced, to compete with the lower-priced beers. Coming up this month is a stout and IPA (India Pale Ale).

An important part of the brand story is the India link, with nationalistic millennials consciously picking a product that has its roots here. Bira calls itself “Imagined in India”; they brew in Nagpur, a location near Indore, Kovur near Rajahmundry, and abroad in upstate New York and Belgium. “It precedes Make in India,” says Ankur, adding that the thought and identity is from our soil. In an interview, he tells us a little more about the partnership.

Why cricket, considering people in their 20s are more into soccer?

While it is true that some younger consumers will be watching other sports like soccer, or tennis or basketball, I think cricket captures the imagination of most Indians, young or old — it’s unparalleled. It’s a fairly obvious choice for a brand that has aspirations beyond a small niche.

What are you expecting from it?

The main objective is to build awareness for our brand with Indian consumers. Now, we are at best known to 20 or 30 million consumers, most of them in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, and some of the other larger markets. With this type of partnership we have the potential to be known by almost 100% of consumers in the country, given that everybody’s watching the world cup. Over the next five years, we expect to be known as a brand that’s synonymous with national culture in some way, and cricket is a great way for that.

How would you use digital content you have access to?

These are images and video content from the matches that we would have a right to use. To give you an example, if you go on Twitter, ICC is posting a recap of the sixes that have been hit. That’s branded as Bira 91 content.

Do you see a future where sport and alcohol will not be associated?

Hard to say. When it comes to beer there’s been a lot of innovation around healthier alternatives as well, so if you look at marathons, especially in Germany, are sponsored by alcohol-free versions of beers. So there’s a change in the way beer companies are approaching sporting partnerships overall, which is not out of the realm of possibility in India either.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 3:01:09 PM |

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