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Allied Blenders & Distillers No. 2 in global liquor ranking; How Kishore Chhabria made it to the list

Brands are as unpredictable as a film, where big budget extravaganza disappear without a whimper while some low budget,content-based experiments rake in big moolah. Add to this the right cocktail mix of marketing and you have a surefire winner on your hands. Many such brands have become ‘millionaire’ brands (selling more than a million cases in a year) but only a few could etch their names in history. One such brand is Officer’s Choice (OC), produced by the Kishore Chhabria–owned Allied Blenders & Distillers Pvt Ltd (ABD).

An interesting story in a foreign newspaper best reflects OC’s heady mix of success. Once a customer went to a liquor mart and stood around scouting for a good whisky brand. A salesman approached him and politely asked, ‘Would you like to try the world’s largest selling whisky?’ This set the customer thinking and he was keen to to know which brand the salesman was referring to. The man at the counter promptly pointed to the India-made brand ‘Officer’s Choice’. Intrigued as he was, the customer looked at the bottle and said, “Sure, why not.”

While whisky lovers’ love for the underdog is legendary, the big boys of the spirit world were shaken when for the fourth year in row, OC emerged as the world’s largest selling whisky and the second largest spirits brand. It has posted sales worth 32.9 million cases, according to the latest International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR) report. The brand is placed second only to South Korea’s Soju-Jinro, which continues to top the chart.

For the uninitiated, Soju is traditionally made from rice, wheat, or barley. However, modern producers often replace rice with other starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.

Now, how does the The IWSR report rank the top-performing global spirits brands? It does so annually on the basis of their brand performance in 155 countries using local market inputs. Some of the parameters include overall market volume, average price per case and volume growth over the last year.

For those who like a dash of history, OC was launched in 1988 by BDA Breweries and Distilleries (now ABD). In the early years, the company was embroiled in a legal wrangle between the founding brothers, Kishore and Manu Chhabria. After younger brother Kishore took over BDA, he merged it with Herbertsons, a large whisky company that owned many popular brands run by liquor baron Vijay Mallya.

As luck would have it, the partnership between Mallya and Chhabria soon turned sour. In 2005, Chhabria parted ways with Herbertsons but retained control of BDA. This marked the beginning of the rise and rise of Officer’s Choice. OC was strategically rebranded as an aspirational middle-class drink. The features included new packaging, a more robust distribution network and the release of ‘premium’ versions of the whisky. Can you believe that at least 30 bottles of brands in the OC franchise sell every second across the country!

Now compare this success with the world most powerful liquor company and you will get a better idea of why OC reigns supreme. Diageo’s highest selling whisky brand Johnnie Walker notched up sales of 19.7 million cases during the corresponding period, over 40 percent less than our Numero Uno brand.This Scottish ‘big boy’ would have hardly ever imagined that an unheard brand in the western world in recent years would give it a run for its money. It is a different story, however, that while OC’s major sale comes from country sales while Johnnie Walker is a truly global brand.

OC also defied sluggish spirits growth trend and recorded a healthy upswing of 13 percent, more than four times the whisky category growth. OC is available across the length and breadth of the country- in all the relevant channels in every state. The key markets for OC are Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Assam and Maharashtra, and it is these states which make the OC cash register ring.

And if there is one person who can be credited for the record-breaking growth it is industry veteran Deepak Roy, Executive Vice Chairman of ABD.  Roy attributes his success to his awesome team. “Teamwork makes a dream work. I had laid out a dream for Officer’s Choice a decade ago and my team has exceeded expectations – Today Officer’s Choice is not only the largest- selling whisky brand in the world by a big margin, it is also the second largest selling spirit brand in the world. It has also been rated as the seventh largest spirits brand (by value) with a retail value of $ 2.3 billion by Impact, a widely-respected industry publication.”

Outlining the main reasons behind the success, Roy says a combination of factors have resulted in the overall success of the brand. A great tasting blend, immaculate packaging, insightful positioning built around the platform of “Righteousness” along with a great mix of passion and team work have resulted in the phenomenal success of the brand.

Only last year, Roy and his boys undertook a major exercise to harmonize the packaging of the entire OC franchise. The objective was to harmonize the Red, Blue and Black variants so as bring better visual synergy while sustaining segment difference. The new packaging has further contemporized the overall identity and has given the brands a very international look, he adds.

Delineating on the marketing and communication strategy that helped the brand grow, Roy reveals: “Marketing has been one of the key levers in the success story of Officer’s Choice. The brand stands for a very strong sense of purpose which has been built around the platform of “Righteousness” and this has resonated very well with consumers. This has created a strong emotional bond with consumers and has instilled a feeling of pride amongst its patrons. Disruptive advertising across multiple touch points has been used to drive home this message.”

“Besides, over the years we have leveraged properties around music and cricket and this too has helped create the desired imagery and aspiration for the brand. In fact, OC is among the few Indian brands to be featured as a case study in the esteemed corridors of the Harvard Business School,” he shares with a hint of pride.

Deepak Roy is very upbeat about the future outlook for the brand. Buoyed by the unprecedented success, the ABD team is exploring other categories within the alcobev segments where it can leverage the OC brand. There are also interesting and innovative product concepts that are being worked on. This is how OC ‘toasts’ success, for the fourth year running!

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Senior editor with Himsamachar

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