Monthly Archives: December 2011

Bottoms Up! The Rising Popularity of Alcohol in ‘New’ India

America’s Whiskey

The idea for this post (other than being apropos just before New Year’s Eve party time) actually came from an edition of NY Times this week which has a feature story on America’s liquor. Which one, you say? Why, bourbon of course.

What was really interesting is the closing paragraph…I’ll get to that in a minute. But, essentially, of all liquors, this one is homegrown American, and its popularity appears to be soaring. It’s a whiskey by another name, no? Exports of bourbon comprise a whopping 70% of all distilled American spirit exports each year. And its volume is expected to grow even further.

Back to that closing paragraph and in relation to growth was a telling  statement, as seen in the following excerpt from this story:

In five to 10 years, will their products be in such high demand? The industry is banking on big growth in India and China, said Charles K. Cowdery, author of “Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey.” “If those markets develop as has been anticipated, no one will have made enough,” he said. “If they don’t, everyone will have made too much.”

That kind of begs the question (since I’m here on the ground)…

What does India drink?

You may have already heard my angst about having to spend an arm and a leg for the “economy variety” of imported wines (cheap, in other words)…for example, Yellow Tail! That’s because the government here taxes imported alcohol at the rate of 150%. Apparently, there are moves underway that will reduce this import duty to a mere…50%.  An improvement, anyway.

Actually, India has a history of Prohibition from the last century. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to ban the sale of alcohol across India and today there are four states, including one of the more prominent one – Gujurat (also Gandhi’s home state) that impose Prohibition.

Alternatively, I wonder if the youth of Mumbai and most other metros in India even know what the word means!

Alcohol consumption is absolutely and visibly on the rise in India (part of India Shining?). Yet, the untapped market is huge because only 22% of men and 2% of women in India consume alcohol. Therefore, the foreign and domestic liquor companies see huge potential here.

The most popular alcohol by far are distilled spirits (rum, brandy, whiskey), followed by local liquor such as palm wine or arrack.  Trailing the pack are beer and finally, wine. Spirits make up a massive 88% of what Indians regularly drink, beer is 10% and wine only 2%.

All these numbers point to one overriding factor: untapped market.

In fact, according to a TIME magazine article last year, India’s market size of $14 billion in 2009 was projected to grow at 10% per year, exceeding the market growth for alcohol of China, US and Europe combined! One that smart liquor, wine or beer companies anywhere in the world would be foolish to ignore. And, they aren’t.

The Other Side (There’s Always One)

On the other, murkier side of the equation, there are definite concerns of alcoholism as a disease, with a disturbing impact on the health of Indians.

An article on this topic in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, expresses this major issue:

What is of particular concern—and an important indicator of health risks—is that the signature pattern of alcohol consumption in India is frequent and heavy drinking. More than half of all drinkers fall into the criteria for hazardous drinking, which is characterised by bingeing and solitary consumption to the point of intoxication.  Moreover, spirits account for 95% of the beverages drunk in India.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India saw a solid increase in recorded adult per capita consumption of alcohol over the past few years. What is probably most troubling is the age at which alcohol consumption begins. Over a decade of time, this age has dropped from 28 to 19 – almost nine years!  Therefore, the prediction is that that age will drop even further, to an alarming 15 years in just a few years time.

Never the Twain Shall Meet? You wish.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that the country that is yet to be able to provide basic human needs and necessities to its population is also eyed as one of the most attractive markets for liquor in the world. How does the country balance the two?

This is just one more reason why India with all its dichotomies is one of the most difficult and complex countries to understand…or govern.

With respect to liquor, now you have accessibility and affordability combined with ‘permission’ from a much more liberalized society. In this country more than any other, I think, it really begs the question…is the glass half-empty or half-full?



In India, Marriages are Made in Heaven. Or

There’s Change. And then there’s Change.

India is a-changing. Rapidly. I’m not sure how many times I’ve written this. It’s becoming rather boring, even to myself, to keep repeating this mantra. But, what can I say? It’s what has happened to this country during the long period when I was living elsewhere, oceans away.

For change to be pervasive or significant, you have to imagine what it means for a nation of more than 1.2 billion people. Kind of like the changing of direction of a massive ocean liner. It won’t happen in the blink of an eye. But over a couple of decades? No question about it! In so many aspects of life, work and living in India – change is visible, dramatic and immense.  

But not so much in the case of Indian marriages. In this case, there’s probably been more of a very slow evolution, than any kind of revolution.

The Curious Case of Arranged Marriages 

This has been a country of arranged marriages over the ages, specifically way back since the fourth century.

So, just because the country has opened up to the West and just because of global mass media and communications, it doesn’t mean that centuries of tradition can or will become undone, especially when it comes to such life altering decisions.

Sure, there are some changes, especially in the metros, where marriages of ‘the other kind’ [regularly referred to as “love marriages” 🙂 ] seem to be more commonplace, but even in the metros, arranged marriages continue to rule the roost.

Marriage is still considered in India as uniting families rather than individuals.More of a family alliance than a union between two souls, that’s for sure.

These arranged marriages originally became a practice for the elite in society to maintain their high status. Gradually it became pervasive in Indian society in general, where each class sought to maintain its respective status.

A Central Fabric of Indian Society. But Why?

According to sociologists who have studied this broad phenomenon in India, historically and even today, arranged marriages serve various purposes in most of the diverse communities across India. 

1. Maintains social status and satisfaction

2. Gives parental control of children’s futures

3. Preserves ancestral lineage

4. Provides an opportunity to strengthen the family sub-group

5. Allows the consolidation and extension of family wealth and property

6. Enables the preservation of endogamy, the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others (on such a basis) as being unsuitable.

When you think about this carefully, it’s easy to veer from the good to the ugly. It’s a dichotomy. On the one hand, you have something that is very practical. On the other hand, that same something is also rather cold. And, where in all of this is there any room for that concept called romance

The Modern Matchmaker

Into this old country with timeless traditions, enter (Note: “Shaadi” in Hindi means wedding).This was back in 1996. The founder, Anupam Mittal was a single guy who was having trouble finding the right girl to marry. So, he decided to marry technology to tradition and create Or so the legend goes. From what I have read, he has remained single. But that has not stopped him from being the online facilitator and the “arranger”, so to speak, of countless Indian arranged marriages.

You have seen companies that have mission statements that speak of various prosaic or esoteric missions. For example, there are some staid one’s such as Microsoft’s

“…Helping People and Businesses to Realize their Full Potential”.  Oh…kay.

Or something fun, like Zynga, the games company, which describes itself as such –

Zynga wants to give the world permission to play… 

That’s pretty neat. Still, has a higher purpose. Here is how it describes itself –

using our services to find happiness.

It goes without saying that these folks equate marriage with happiness. Some would say that was a pretty contentious stance to take. But not many in India, I dare say. 

This online marriage broker is obviously doing something right in this country of a billion plus people. This site is ranked in the top 10 most visited sites of India.  They’ve hit a sweet spot, for sure.

Besides, it was also ranked as the most innovative company in India by Fast Company. Perhaps that’s because of the the way it applies technology to marriage – making it easy to use, safe, private, comprehensive – offering a whole host of variety, selection criteria, and ultra customer-focused.

So, how does it work?

Essentially it’s like a dating service except that there is only one real goal: M A R R I A G E. You can think of it as a dating service customized for Indians, with all the quirks and traditions that they are used to and need.

Versatility, Thy Name is

In India, it’s not always the individual to be married who submits a profile on Carrying its well-established tradition forward, it could be parent(s), sibling or some ‘elder’ in the family who decides that the candidate wants marriage. So, essentially, in these cases, you have just moved an “offline”, analog process to be online and digital. According to the site, a whopping 30% of profiles are submitted by someone other than the marriage prospect. This goes back to my theory that the ‘business’ of marriage in India has not changed much over the centuries.

No doubt is providing a valuable service to a country that is still very traditional in its approach to marriage and life in general, by using technology to expand the universe of the prospective groom or bride (or their parents) to find their mate for life.

In addition to helping the traditionalist, there is also something liberating about this process because even as this site enables the conventional Indian approach to get results, it also offers an opportunity for people to move beyond caste, community, religion and language  – should they choose to do so.  For example, perhaps an individual chooses to find and meet someone who has similar interests, rather than similar castes or backgrounds. They can do so now in the privacy of their home unleashing the power of their advanced search feature…all at their fingertips!

The service uses a subscription revenue model but I have yet to find any financials of this private company. However, with 15 years of history, this company has managed to touch over 20 million Indians globally and claims to have arranged a whopping 2 million marriages. Wow!

In addition, they have a mix of 70% Indians living in India and 30% Indians living outside of India. They have an impressive six million unique visitors every month with three million active members currently. The ratio of male to female between the ages of 21-35 is 65 to 35% – I’m not quite sure what conclusions to draw from this difference. may be the most well known and successful marriage site in India, but as you can imagine in this massive market, there’s room for copy cats, some backed by big name companies. So, here are a few more with some interesting names- (“lifelong friend”) – labels itself as the first “metro-marriage” site. (“bharat” – another name for India) (“marriage bond”) – Hmmmm, that sounds kinda fishy….

and of course,  Why ever not?


Photo credit – Traditional Indian Wedding:

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