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Two decades on Wine is still Liquor in India

Posted: Friday, 30 December 2016 17:24

 

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Blog : Two decades on Wine is still Liquor in India

Dec 30: As the year comes to close, It is customary to reflect on the prevailing trends in the wine industry, but with over two decades of wine being in the Indian market, it is sad that wine is still equated generally with liquor, making the industry move ahead only by fits and starts although the consumption and the number of people imbibing is steadily on the increase, writes Subhash Arora

Click For Large View‘Lift the glass & say cheers! It's the time to pour wine’ screamed the headlines in today’s edition of the respectable daily financial newspaper Economic Times. Very optimistic Breaking News headlines for the wine, you might think. However, as you glance at the Article, you realize that it has nothing to do with wine or pouring wine; the age-old trend of referring liquor as wine and the century-old tradition of addressing the liquor shops as wine shop continues in 2016 and is likely to continue for the next decade, unless the government, journalists and wine educators do something about it.

The Guwahati- based news item reads, ‘New Year revellers in Assam can raise a toast as the state government has decided to allow wine shops to extend their business hours from 11 am to 10 pm from the current 2 pm to 10 pm. In a significant move, the government has decided to reduce the number of dry days in a year from 28 to 4. The newspaper must be given due credit, at least for using a classic picture showing red wine being poured from a red wine bottle.  

The Article is also an indicator once again that either the journalists do not care for or are unaware about the fundamental differences between wine and liquor and unless there is awareness about the difference between beer, wine and hard liquors, little progress may be expected in the growth of wine consumption. The government generally lumps the two in the same category for making policies.

I coined an adage a few years ago- Wine is not alcohol, it has some. The precise purpose was to help consumers and decision makers to appreciate the difference between wine and liquor. Apart from confusing people a bit or getting a few smirks, the real purpose has not been appreciated so far.

I have often cited that though the Indian Constitution exhorts the policymakers to steer their State towards prohibition and has given them the right to determine the alcohol marketing and pricing policy through the excise policy, the governments have often considered the wine and alcohol industry as cash cow. Likely to generate an additional annual revenue of Rs. 4 billion for the state, Assam Excise Minister asserts, ‘“We have not taken the decision solely for revenue. The prime driving factor behind this move is public health.”

Maybe- or maybe not! Apparently due to the restrictive policies of the previous Congress- run government earlier in 2016, people have been reportedly consuming spurious liquor.“During several raids, we recovered huge quantities of liquor, majority of which was spurious. In the interest of the health of those consuming liquor we have decided to increase the business hours and reduce the number of dry days, “said the minister.

“In the last fiscal, the excise department generated `8 billion revenue while in this fiscal year we are expecting it to cross Rs. 1,2 billion.“ There is no mention of wine in his statement or the news report by Economic Times.

No sight of reduction of Customs Duty

I had taken a counter stand in 2011 and in my Blog at the end of the year I had mentioned that the reduction of customs duty from 150% to 50% was a far cry. It gives me no joy to report that the 5-year Article is as applicable as it was in 2011. The next 3 years would also not see any reduction in customs duty. If at all the customs duty exemption on foreign wine might be removed from the hotel industry during the same period. This is going to make things much more difficult for the foreign wine segment.

However, we are likely to see a continued annual growth of the wine industry by 15-20% next year, the growth would be higher in the lower segment of fortified wines, in the 3 million case consumption.

As I said in the above Blog 5 years ago, have a great 2017!! Drink better quality wines-in moderation and stay healthy. Drink what you like and not what others or I tell you.

Jai Ho!

Subhash Arora

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