I Brands ready to take things to the next level

I Brands ready to take things to the next level

In 2001, after a colourful journey with several media houses including, Fox, Universal, MTV, Nickelodeon and Parmount, among others, in the United Kingdom, Lisa Srao moved to Bengaluru in 2003.

Talking to Mamta Bhardwaj of Deccan Herald, Srao took a trip down memory lane to talk about her arrival in the Indian spirits space, while I Brands, a company that she founded and is the Chairman and Managing Director of, is ready to take things to the next level.  

What encouraged you to launch I Brands?

When I first moved to Bengaluru in 2003, I realised that international quality products aren’t available here, which is really upsetting because people have money to spend. Finding a good packet of biscuits was difficult. That is when I started analysing the market, and I thought why don’t I bring in liquor. My father launched the Double Dutch beer in the UK, and I first wanted to introduce that. But, bringing it here wasn’t possible because of the duties etc. Hence, I created an international quality brand — I brands.

What was the launch roadmap?

In India, each state is like a separate country. I realised I can’t bring a product just like that, what with the differences in language, food, clothing and cultures. I looked more carefully into the spirits business, and I found that the mass market premium segment, as you would call it, is really underutilised i.e. there aren’t many competitors in that space. When I say mass market premium, I’ll give you examples: there is Royal Stag, so I launched Granton Whisky; Blenders Pride, I launched Three Royals; Old Monk, I came up with Rum 99; and Mansion House, I launched Granton Brandy.

How did the market accept I Brands?

Uttarakhand was where I did the pilot project in August 2010. With the test market, I realised very quickly that the blend was too smooth for the regional taste.You have to be very specific to the market that you are in. Here, it was about the blend in that price segment. Customers in the Rs 285-565 price segment wanted a stronger taste. I had to change the blend to introduce the strong mouthfeel. So, I relaunched it. The blend was tweaked to suit the preferences of the target audience.

What were the challenges for I Brands?

Each state was like a different country to venture into. Expansion is a very capital-intensive and complicated with separate label registrations and excise duties. We are small, and hence, we are able to adapt to be the best products in the segment. We are working on gaining momentum in the market share.

How far has I Brands come now?

It is a very exciting time for I Brands. Not only have we expanded, but we have consolidated four brands. I Brands is now in 13 states and 6,000 outlets across India. Recently, we set foot in the South, having launched in about 700 retail outlets in Andhra Pradesh. Next, launches in Delhi, Mizoram and Telangana, have been consolidated for this fiscal.  We are expanding internationally as well. We’ve got the­se brands, we’re consolidated, and we’re ready to take it to the next level now.

What is the next level?

Now is the right time for I Brands, which has outgrown the startup phase, to have a good alliance. I Brand is a brand-specific company, and what I really want in 2016, is to form alliances. I am looking at international or Indian liquor companies to link our brands with, as I am looking at increasing distribution.

So far, how has the expansion excercise shaped up?

I have already got my investors. We are expanding slowly and steadily in Cambodia. The spirits have arrived there and are being shelved as we speak. While targetting 200 bars and 75 retail outlets there, I am also looking at expanding into Vietnam and Laos in South East Asia, and that is why I am looking at alliances now to give me that leg-up in distribution.

Is the production facility ready to take on the expansion?

I Brands’ bottling plant is located in Dera Bassi in Punjab. The plant is well-equiped to cater to the market in the North. Post the launch in Telangana, as the market in the South picks up, the company will set up its second plant in either Andhra Pradesh or Telangana.

How different are the markets in the North and South from each other?

In the North, the dominant liquor is whisky, whereas in the South it’s brandy specifically. However, the thing about the Indian market is that 95 per cent is consumed by brown spirits. Whisky takes up 60 per cent, brandy 17 per cent, rum 13 per cent, and only 7-8 per cent is white spirits.

Finally, how do you view I Brands positioned in the Indian market?

For I Brands, product is king. The three key elements for the company are blend, packaging and price. I Brands products look great on the shelf, and are easy on the pocket. And, as for my own journey, it has been one hell of a four-year ride, from people rubbishing a women entrepreneur in the spirits business to winning the Most Dynamic Leader in the Women Category at the Spiritz 2015 Awards. I can’t wait for what’s next.

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