Bilimoria plans two Cobra breweries in India

By Aroonim Bhuyan

New Delhi : British Indian entrepreneur Karan Bilimoria, who owns Cobra beer, is planning to set up two breweries in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh as part of its expansion in India.

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“We are planning to set up two new plants in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh through acquisitions, in addition to a greenfield project in Punjab,” Bilimoria told IANS here Monday.

“In fact, we are planning two new greenfield projects in the next couple of years here in India. We are talking of at least $15 million for each project. The total investment in India in the next two years will be about $50 million,” he said.

Stating that Cobra beer was a brand of Indian origin, he said, “I always dreamt of making Cobra in India for India.”

Cobra was first brewed in Bangalore in 1990 and exported to Britain for seven years. In 1997, Cobra started brewing under licence with Charles Wells (now known as Wells & Young’s) in Britain.

In 2005, the brand returned to India and, in partnership with the Mount Shivalik Group of Rajasthan, started brewing for the Indian market. Since then, Cobra has also started brewing with Impala Breweries and Manav Breweries in Uttar Pradesh and Iceberg in Bihar.

Expressing optimism about the company’s prospects in India, Bilimoria said, “In May this year, we achieved levels in India that (Australian brand) Foster’s took 12 years to achieve.”

The company, with an annual turnover of £126 million and exports to 50 countries, now sells three million cases in India annually and has captured three percent of the market.

“King Cobra (the stronger version of the beer) accounts for 70 percent of our sales while Cobra accounts for the remaining. This reflects current demand in India, which is 70 percent for strong beer and 30 percent for lager,” said the 46-year-old entrepreneur.

He also stated that due diligence has been done for the greenfield project in Punjab.

“All formalities are being completed including licensing and partnership. We expect the project to be completed in two years,” he said.

He, however, declined to give more details about the new breweries in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, and the greenfield project in Punjab.

But he added that, going with the expansion, the company’s headcount in India would also increase significantly.

“As of now, our headcount in India totals around 200. This is going to more than triple once the expansion is completed.”

On the new products his company is planning to introduce in the Indian market, Bilimoria said, “We are planning to launch some new products but I cannot give you the details now. In Britain, we have Cobra Low Calorie, Cobra 0.0 percent and Cobra Bite, which is a fruit-flavoured beer.”

Asked if he was also looking at the rapidly expanding wine market in India, he said, “We did test market our General Bilimoria brand of wine here and the response has been very encouraging. However, you must remember that wine is a very small part of our business.”

Bilimoria, who is also a member of Britain’s House of Lord’s, said that simultaneously with its expansion plans, his company is also discharging its corporate social responsibility.

The beer baron currently serves as chairman for the Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba Memorial Trust for education of children of poor widows in India. He is also a patron of the Thare Machi Starfish Initiative, which works for education of young girls, and Rethink, which works for people with severe mental illness.

“We have started Cobra Foundation which will channel resources for charity. I have also started a fellowship in memory of my father to sponsor cancer specialists to work with top cancer specialists in Britain for three months a year,” he said, adding that a new scholarship for children of services personnel was also being launched.

Stating that he believed in the three Ps of entrepreneurship – people, planet and profit – he said, “I want Cobra not only to be the best in the world but also the best for the world.”