The COVID-19 pandemic seems far from over and has pushed businesses to think innovatively. Particularly hit hard was the FnB industry — for a while, alcohol shops weren’t open, and pubs are still shuttered. So how does a craft beer business survive and thrive? From releasing a drink in a new market to riding on delivery models, Javed Murad, founder of White Owl Brewery, relates how the company is adapting to changing circumstances.
White Owl’s beer journey began in 2014; Murad was ambitious about starting something of his own and identified a gap in the affordable craft beer market in India. As a Harvard Business School student in Boston in 2007, Murad stumbled upon some exceptional beer that was also priced well. On vacation in Mumbai, the void in the craft beer market became apparent to Murad and presented a compelling opportunity–creating artisanal beer like those in the US and European markets. The brand will soon launch Spike, German Weizenbock style beer, in Delhi.
How did you secure financing for White Owl Brewery?
After it was clear to me that we needed to create a craft beer segment within the Indian market, and quickly, I discussed this with friends, mentors, and colleagues. I moved back to India with the idea of White Owl and a detailed business plan. A bunch of my ex-colleagues invested in our seed funding round that was topped up by friends, family, and some beer lovers. Our subsequent rounds have come from family offices [wealth management firms of high-net-worth families] and institutional funds, including IIFL Pvt. Equity, RAAY Global, and the Jeejeebhoy Family Office, among others. We have secured Rs 70 crore in total, with Rs 40 crore in Series B funding being led by IIFL in October 2019.
How soon were you able to scale up operations?
We started our beer journey in late-2014 out of our brewpub in Central Mumbai and by late-2019 had migrated from a single point of sale serving kegged beer to a national business distributing bottled and canned craft beer at over 3,000 bars and retail stores across the country. It took us five years to scale to where we are today. And there were several exciting scaling milestones along the way. But all along, we always emphasised product quality, which has culminated into an award-winning craft beer portfolio that includes Spike, our 7.9% German Weizenbock that is India’s first strong-craft beer, and Ace, our Apple Cider brewed with Himalayan Apples and Champagne Yeast. Now that we are set with beer recipes for at least another five years, we have shifted our focus to scaling our distribution footprint further and strengthening our brand recall with our consumers across the country.
What should new businesses look out for?
Spending money is easy; earning is the difficult part. I would recommend focusing on revenue models, creating a cost-benefit analysis for every item you spend on and making sure you are always well-capitalised to be able to make calm, prudent decisions during difficult moments. This is something you will inevitably have to deal with time and time again in your entrepreneurial journey to take on new challenges.
What was your response to the pandemic-related restrictions?
We have grown from a team of five-ten, working at the back of our brewpub in 2014, to a parliament of 100+ owls across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Pune, Goa, and Bhopal. I can’t imagine any startup that hasn’t had to make tough money decisions in its journey. At White Owl, we most recently were hit with zero revenues for more than six weeks, on account of the ongoing pandemic and lockdown restrictions. We lost a substantial chunk of our earnings in the peak season of the year that typically contributes to 40% of our annual business.
We have had to selflessly support one another and our organisation. The entire restaurant/bar channel that thrives on social interactions and forms 30-40% of our business will be handicapped for the foreseeable future until we have some sort of a vaccine option available. Whereas retail stores have opened, there is still an underlying fear of cases rising and ambiguity of new restrictions being imposed. Consumer sentiment is generally muted as one can imagine with salary reductions and job cuts across the country. But our team is working hard to rebuild the business. We are quite excited about home delivery models for liquor developing across the country. This is a much-needed evolution and will be fantastic for business momentum.
What is the impact on your business, overall?
This was at a time where we were set to triple our volumes compared to the same period last year. While we don’t expect the rest of the year to be as dramatically impacted, we are expecting and are prepared for a long recovery.
Nonetheless, our wealth management principles have been quite intact even through the current crisis. We remain conservative with our spending, keep our fixed costs low, and are always solving for net present value outcomes for any investment decision. We are, however, paying a bit more attention to our balance sheet now than we usually did, as cash conversion cycles are being extended all over the country. This requires more thorough working capital management than a boom period.
All images: Courtesy White Owl’ Brewery Instagram and brand
White Owl Brewery Expands Distribution to Delhi, India
White Owl Brewery in Mumbai, India has announced that its distribution footprint has expanded into India's capital district of Delhi.
In a release from White Owl, the brewery revealed that over 250 bars and retail establishments now carry White Owl's most popular brews, including Spark (a Belgian-style Witbier) and Diablo (an Irish Red Ale).
The full release from White Owl is below.
This New Year, award-winning brewery White Owl is giving beer lovers another reason to celebrate. Following growing consumer demand, White Owl launched its bottled craft beer in Delhi last November, quickly making its way to over 250 popular bars & retail stores across the nation’s capital!
After the successful introduction of its craft beer in Bottles & Cans in Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Bengaluru last year, White Owl finally made its way north, launching its top-selling brews – ‘Spark,’ a Belgian Wit with Summery Orange-Citrus notes and ‘Diablo,’ an Irish Red Ale, loved for its Roast Caramel finish – in Bottles in Delhi in November. White Owl will also introduce its beer in Cans in Delhi shortly. Ace, its Apple Cider Ale (also the only locally-bottled Cider Ale available in India today) and Spike, its Strong German Wheat Beer are also expected to launch in Delhi in the first half of 2019.
Bottles of Spark and Diablo are now available over 250 locations across Delhi. The list of popular bars & restaurants includes: The Beer Café and The Irish House across Delhi, Raasta in Green Park, Yes Minister in Aurobindo Marg, What A Comic Show at SDA Market and GK, and The Taste at Defence Colony. Retail Stores selling White Owl include: Ashok T Gulrajani in Jangpura, C Suri in Savitri Market and amongst many others.
Javed Murad, Founder of White Owl says: “White Owl is at an exciting stage of its journey with a series of new developments that we are thrilled to announce soon. Our launch in Delhi is our first foray into North India and we remain committed to taking our award-winning brews to many more markets to cater to the growing demand for top quality premium beer across India.”
White Owl’s quick expansion over the last two years bears testament to India’s rapidly growing beer market where the evolution of beer has been fueled by the preponderance of microbreweries and brewpubs across the country. Premium Craft Beer is now enjoying robust growth and is considered to have brought about a revolutionary change in the drinking habits of Indian consumers. There is no shortage of experts who predict that in the next 10 years, India will see a craft beer revolution larger than that in the United States or Europe. While there is a large variety of options available to the urban population when it comes to other premium food products, there is a lack of options in the premium craft beer space and White Owl aims to address this gap with its expanding operations. Bottles & Cans enable White Owl to not only service the substantially larger Retail Segment but also to expand the brand’s existing presence within the Restaurant/Bar Space.
White Owl has launched Spark at an MRP of Rs. 110 and Diablo at Rs. 130, per 325ml bottle respectively.
About White Owl:
White Owl is a Mumbai-based, Award-Winning Brewery renowned for handcrafting beer using the finest of natural ingredients from around the world. Armed with an extensive craft beer portfolio featuring an eclectic selection of Old-World & New-Age styles, we advocate small-batch brewing of crisp, complex flavours & distinct aromas under the leadership of a highly-experienced & internationally-trained brewing team.
Craft Beer from White Owl is now available On Tap and in Bottles & Cans at over 1200 Restaurants, Bars & Retail Stores across Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Bengaluru & Delhi with several new geographies in the pipeline. A few of our flagship brews include: Spark, a classic Belgian Wit, characterized by summery Orange-Citrus notes; Diablo, an Irish Red Ale, known for its unique amber appearance and hints of Caramel, and Ace, a bubby Apple Cider Ale that is brewed with Himalayan Apple & Champagne yeast. Interestingly, Diablo is the only locally-bottled Red Ale, and Ace the only locally-bottled Apple Cider available today in India.
A few White Owl pouring partners include the national portfolios of The Irish House, TGIF and Azure Hospitality (Sly Granny, Foxtrot, Mamagoto) amongst others, as well as various renowned local bars, hotels and stores, including:
Mumbai: The Irish House, Social Offline, Hoppipola, British Brewing Company, Sofitel, Renaissance, Tunga Hotels, Smoke House Deli, Salt Water Café, BKC Dive, Agent Jack’s, Indigo Delicatessen, Hitchki, Chili’s, London Taxi, Butterfly High, Blanco, Vineyard Wine Merchants, Deepak Wines, Aaradhana Wines, Peekay Wines and Pankaj Wines, amongst many others.
Bengaluru: The Humming Tree, The Black Rabbit, Smoke House Deli, Taj Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Sheraton Grand, Bangalore Turf Club, Madhuloka Group, Spencer’s Supermarket, JW Marriott, The Beer Café, Koshy’s, Tipsy Bull, Bangalore Club, Dewar’s Wine Shop, Sam’s Wines, Drops and Liquor Mart amongst many others.
Delhi: The Beer Café and The Irish House (across Delhi), Yes Minister, Café Tesu, C Suri (GK 2), Ashok T Gulrajani (Jangpura), Raasta (Green Park), Yes Minister (Aurobindo Marg) What A Comic Show (SDA Market & GK), The Taste (Defence Colony) and Ashok T Gulrajani (Jangpur) amongst many others.
Pune: The Urban Foundry, The Daily, Shisha Jazz Cafe, One Lounge, Fly High, Boteco, Krustys, Mineority by Saby, Hippie at Heart, Prems, Swig, Elephant & Co, German Bakery and Pandora amongst many others.
Goa: Black Sheep Bistro, Thalassa, Route 66, Starlight, Purple Martini, Santorini, Escobar, Novotel Hotels & Resorts, Novotel Dona Sylvia, Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Planet Hollywood, Delfinos, Newton’s and Toms Wine, amongst many others.
White Owl was conceptualized and founded by entrepreneurs from Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of Business and is supported by a diverse, well-networked investor group out of both India & the United States.
How White Owl aims to grab a prime position in the craft beer market
White Owl Brewery – a Mumbai based brewery start-up which competes with the likes homemade beer brands such as Bira besides Gateway Brewing Company, Independence Brewing Company, among others is not here to play the pricing game, instead, it has positioned itself as one of the premium players in the category. “We have benchmarked our product in such a way that our cheapest product is in the range of Kingfisher Ultra and the costliest falls a little below Heineken,” Javed Murad, founder, White Owl Brewery, said. Due to the difference in state tax, the pricing of the brand varies from market to market. For example, in Delhi, a pint of beer costs anywhere between Rs 110 – Rs 130. As per industry estimates, the market size of craft beer in India is between $140 million-$210 million.
As part of its marketing strategy, the company has created two kinds of users. Bar or restaurant owners who fall under the first set of users are called ‘customers’ by the start-up; while buyers are called consumers. “As a company, we have always been very consumer focussed. We aim at educating consumers about our product as, ultimately, they are the ones who generate long term repeat demand. We believe this is more efficient as opposed to paying a channel to push forward our brand,” Murad added. He, however, refused to divulge details on marketing spend.
According to Murad, the brand’s marketing also involves competing for a shelf space primarily in bars. The brand uses visual branding which includes table cards awareness among consumers. Moreover, it claims to run an incentivised staff training program at the point of sale – essentially bars. For Murad, this allows the staff at the point of sale to describe the product range in detail. Further, White Owl partakes in events such as the Flea Market and Spoken Fest events which dabbles in music and comedy, across India. Moreover, the brand also collaborates with corporate activations besides hosting house parties. Murad claims that the aim behind the below-the-line (BTL) activations is to resonate and engage with the consumers.
As part of its expansion plans, the brewery plans to roll out its new variant Spike in Delhi in March, this year. The company had launched the variant in last December in Mumbai and Bengaluru. White Owl claims to sell close to five lakh bottles per month, “We will be EBITDA positive by the time we sell 20,000 cases a month per region, which will be in a couple of years,” Murad noted. As per the company, it has over 2,200 points of sale which include restaurants, bars and retail stores.
Currently present in Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Bengaluru and Pune, it plans to expand to cities such as Mysore, Navi Mumbai, Nasik, among others. White Owl has two large breweries (contract partners), one in Bhopal and a newly opened one in Hassan, near Bengaluru. According to Murad, the Bhopal brewery manufactures 64,000 litre batches of beer, eight times a day, 25 days a month. Meanwhile, Bengaluru brewery has a capacity of 100,000 litre per batch of beer, six times a day, 25 days a month. At present, the company has four variants available in the market- Diablo, Spark, Ace and Spike.
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