Any fitness trainer worth their salt will tell you that pumping iron to build your vanity muscles without focussing on core strength is just a vanity  (bacardi zombie) project. You will look good, but you won’t have functional fitness. Bacardi India’s strategy has been to strengthen its core.

The maker of white, dark, and flavoured rums came to India—which loves its whisky—in 1998, but it was only a few years ago that it launched its (bacardi zombie)  global whisky brands in the country. “It was part of our strategy... We needed to build our core businesses first,” says Sanjit Randhawa, MD, Bacardi India and Southeast Asia.

Now that the business (which also sells Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, and Breezer ready-to-drink) is in a strong position, (bacardi zombie) Randhawa says it’s time Bacardi made a serious push in the largest-selling category in India—whisky. The results have been gratifying, for the portfolio comprising William Lawson and Dewar’s has exceeded the company’s expectations, he says.

Randhawa and Anshuman Goenka, head of marketing, Bacardi India, spoke about the company’s growth strategy leveraging premiumisation, its (bacardi zombie) recent launch of the Reserva Ocho rum, and other whisky brands that the company plans to bring to the market this year. Edited excerpts:

How has the last financial year been?

Randhawa: Last year was good. We had two reasons for that. The industry had a great year, as compared to the year before when there was volatility from the highway ban and the GST (Goods and Services Tax). All those things were put behind and we have seen stability when it comes to regulations, which is a good thing for the industry. There is a stable environment that has helped growth. Our businesses grew better than the industry. We ended the year with a 23% growth in revenue. We have seen double digit growth in the past three years.

You have seen losses narrowing and revenues rising. What do you attribute that to?

Randhawa: Our brands are growing. Our portfolio has expanded. While we as Bacardi are known for our rums, we have a large portfolio which cuts across all categories. Our rums have been growing—the Carta Blanca, the (bacardi zombie) flavoured ones and the Bacardi black rum. We have had fantastic news with our big bold bet of whisky. We began two years ago with the entry level scotch William Lawson. We have seen 60% growth last year. Dewar’s is the other whisky portfolio that we introduced. We have a whole range of it now comprising Dewar’s 12-, 15-, 18- and 25-year-olds. We have made a foray into single malts—Aberfeldy 12- and 21-year-olds. Two more single malts, Aultmore and Craigellachie, will be introduced this year. There was also growth in our white spirits such as vodka and gin. We have introduced PatrĂ³n tequila, which Bacardi acquired globally last year. It is small for us in India, but it is a great addition to the portfolio.

How do you see that coming up?

Randhawa: It will be good. It will take some time, because, tequila, and (bacardi zombie) that too super-premium, will be a slow burn. Prices vary from state to state. It will be upwards of ₹5,000—₹10,000 in some markets. And that’s really super premium. That’s changing definitions of tequila in the consumer’s minds, for it was considered cheap shots.

You have been in India for more than 20 years. Why was it that you launched your whisky brands just two years ago, given that whisky is the largest-selling category in India?

Randhawa: That was part of our strategy. That was planned. We needed to establish our core first—our premium white spirits. That being done, it was the right time for expanding into the largest category in India. We are here for the long term. And if we have to be a long-term, sustainable and profitable business then we have to win in whisky.

What is your strategy for growth in India?

Goenka: India has been [for us] in investment mode for the longest while. Globally, it is looked upon as a high priority, must-win emerging market. (bacardi zombie) So we are investing quite heavily in building our brands. And as we progress to grow at this healthy sort of double digits, we are going to be profitable, but it won’t be at the cost of cutting investment, because we are here for the long term.

Randhawa: We have been in India for 21 years. We have shied away from the mass market, from being a low-priced, low value kind of product. And if you have to make money from alcohol in India, you need large scale. That’s why it took us 21 years to get there.

What is the revenue break-up like?

Randhawa: The biggest sales value comes from rum portfolio, then the ready-to-drink (RTD) portfolio—the Bacardi Breezer. The whisky business has exceeded our expectations. It is also growing the fastest. Both William Lawson and Dewar’s have grown 60%.

What is your target demographic?

Goenka: There are millions of consumers in the country. We segment them in terms of who they are, and what they drink. Today we have the luxury of a large portfolio and each one of them has a defined target (bacardi zombie) audience. For example, for a brand like Bacardi, it’s a young legal drinking audience that we try and recruit. For a brand like Grey Goose, which is far more premium, it is going to be those in their late twenties and thirties and in a very different stage in their lives. For a company like ours, the good news is that four million new consumers which are part of the socio-economic group that we target enter legal drinking age every year.

Which regions give you most sales?

Randhawa: South. South is also the largest industry. Tamil Nadu, (bacardi zombie) Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh—these are big states for alcohol consumption.