Vijay rekhi, Executive Director – Unibev Ltd, is a legend in his lifetime. The industry visionary is now fully involved in Unibev Ltd, a joint venture between Vijay Rekhi and Globus Spirits Ltd for launching premium spirits.
Shekhar swarup who serves as Executive Director in Unibev Ltd is passionate about making Unibev a force to reckon with in the premium segments.
In a freewheeling chat with shalini Kumar, Vijay Rekhi and Shekhar Swarup reveal how they are re-writing the rules of the game.
When Vijay Rekhi, liquor industry veteran and former Managing Director of United Spirits gets emotionally involved in any project he is bound to re-write the rules of the industry. His latest start-up Unibev is trying to give companies like Pernod Ricard and Daigeo a run for their money in the long run by producing premium whisky and brandy. At his tastefully done Bengaluru office, Rekhi gives a sneak peek into his company’s strategy. “We have a compelling story. We have a product and I think that’s a good enough start. We didn’t want to go down either the economic ladder or the price ladder. We want to remain on top because ours is a premium luxury spirits company. We’ve started with IMFL and will soon be migrating to bottling other Scotches. We’ll have our own single malt sooner than later, also an aged rum and a different shaded vodka. I can’t let the cat out of the bag but we will have a vodka which will entice the consumer. They will have a reason to buy apart from packaging and promotion.” Unibev has launched premium Indian whiskies blended with vintage scotch of 12 and 18 years of age for the first time in the history of the liquor industry in India. Whether it is Governor’s Reserve, priced at Rs. 1042 for a 750 ML bottle or Oakton Barrel aged whisky for Rs 1400 for a 750 ML bottle, whisky drinkers will experience hints of international Scotch whisky in these premium brands. Rekhi observes that today’s discerning Indian consumer loves to drink age apart from the brand, be it a 12-year-old, a single malt or a blend. This has become the starting point for Unibev’s premiumization philosophy. “There used to 5 and 8-year-old whiskies, but now the starting point for feeling nice that you are drinking a reasonably aged product, is only 12 onwards.” Actually, people have now moving to 18 from 12-year-old brands, he adds.
Unibev has slotted each of the products, in popular aged slots, says Rekhi. “I believe that is a lever to go and franchise the product. Obviously, the brand will take time to get recall; through packaging or through messaging which we are coding with the content story of 12, 18 and 21.”
When asked about the resurgence in the gin market, Rekhi concurs: “You are absolutely a dent in the mind of the consumer for easy recall.” When quizzed as to why they have taken as long as two years to enter the market, when other players take just a few months, Rekhi reveals: “If you have an innovative product, if you want international quality packaging values and if you are not going for run-of-the mill bottles, time is essential. For instance, the bottle itself has a lead time of six months in terms of design concept, iterations and delivery. We also need to keep in mind the time taken by graphic artists, name finalization and registration. And yes, not to forget trademark, a difficult area to manage. Once all these elements are stitched together, we need to handle the most crucial part – the blend. Blend tasting poses its own challenges. It took nearly a year to perfect the blend. You can’t synergize in three months, if you want cutting-edge quality.”
Unibev has production facilities in Bengaluru & Haryana. In Haryana it has its own unit while in Bangalore the company has a tie-up. Talking about his master blender, his eyes light up. “Our master blender remains the famous NJ Menon who has nearly five decades of experience. He remains a master craftsman. In my previous assignment, we had cast his hands in plaster and gold plated them and kept them in our conference room, because the products he has been successfully associated with are leaders in their respective categories. The entire range of McDowell’s, Signature and Antiquity has gone through his expert hands. I think he is the best in the industry.” Where does he see Unibev five years from now? Rekhi smiles expansively, “The top, where else.”