Brand loyalty increases when companies are able to communicate their identity clearly to the consumers. When consumers connect on the same level which the brand portrays, then high brand equity gets established. This communication pattern depend upon the right mix of awareness and availability of the brand.
Sula Vineyards has ably done its brand communication to win the Indian market. Sula belongs to an alco-beverage segment which is a social taboo in our society and not easily accepted by consumers to flaunt its consumption. Rajeev Samant, the owner and CEO of Sula, changed the way India now looks upon wine leading to an improved stature of wine drinking in the society.
When the company started its operations in late 1990s in Nashik, in the hills of Dindori, it had to face a very challenging agricultural and political environment. Production of wine grapes were an unknown territory as table grapes were more easily understood and produced than wine grapes. Also, getting visa and work-permit in 1990s for winery was very challenging. Sula overcame this hindrance by strategically positioning itself as a boost to agro-industry which leads to employment of rural people.
When the sale of wines started in 2000, India was very skeptical to its acceptance. However, Samant felt that consumers were evolving post-liberalisation and an unexplored market exist. Those from upper middle class were ready to experiment with wine drinking, especially in social gatherings. Greater exposure to western culture, global travel and experience of other countries where drinking wine is part of the lifestyle, also worked as an antecedent.
Advertising is the easiest tool for right brand communication. However, advertising of alcoholic products is strewn with restrictions in India. It cannot be part of sponsorship for major sporting events or support other branded products. The company overcame this by designing wine-tasting events and entertainment events as part of its primary promotion tool.
The company made efforts to introduce the art of wine drinking to the Indian consumers and also to poach them from their more loyal alco-beverage segments and their brands. They initiated wine tours with wine tasting sessions at Sula winery to make Indian palette more adaptive towards wine and educating people on the finer points of enjoying wine, especially with Indian cuisine. They also emphasised that wines of Indian origin are better suited to Indian palette and goes well with Indian spicy food rather than wines of international origin. These strategies worked in favour of Sula and brought people closer to accepting wines.
A major push in establishing an elite identity for brand Sula is in terms of its entertainment event – a Wine Weekend with Sula in the form of ‘Sula Fest’- a music festival which is held at their winery in February every year. The major purpose is to give brand Sula a cool and exciting image. The fest include numerous activities like grape stomping, wine tasting, foot massage, tattooing to create an atmosphere of exuberance. Such novel strategies for the Indian market helped Indians to leave their inhibitions and position Sula as a lifestyle brand among Indian consumers.
The distribution and availability of wine in India is determined by state and federal policy. Earlier hotels dominated wine sales in India. Strategic manoeuvring was done by adopting distributor’s route mainly through retail ‘wine shops’ for mass reach and easy acceptance of wines in the market. Currently they have placed wines in supermarkets whereby state government has approved to easily connect with upper middle class.
In order to keep the brand alive, Sula continuously introduces new grape varietals and tries to cater to every taste with its bouquet of white, red, sparkling, Rose and dessert wines. It has developed a portfolio of 23 different wines with two-three new introductions every year. It offers a huge basket of offerings with varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Merlot, Viognier and Riesling.
By 2015, it reached wine production of 800,000 cases per year, making the company biggest wine producer with 65 per cent market share. Sula also built the largest wine footprint in India with a presence in 32 states in India with export to 20 countries across the globe. Sula has a wide national distribution network of 70 distributors within India.
Earlier the customers were the wealthy Indians, tourists and expatriates. Now the clientele is broader and consumption has moved out to the upper middle class in Tier-II cities. The average price of the wines was around Rs 800 in those days. In order to cover mass markets their wines were made available at price points starting as low as approximately Rs 200 which goes all the way to Rs 1,200.
Their boldest move to capture Indian market is to bring Indian women as their target customer. With Indian women becoming more economically and socially independent with changing horizons and open mind-set to accepting change, it showed great potential. Sula created a wine especially for women, which was low on alcohol, slightly sparkling and sweeter than other varieties.
Right communication strategies of Sula changed the attitude and outlook of Indians especially upper middle class and elite class. Indian wine market evolved from being non-wine drinkers to wine drinkers. Currently Sula is the most recognised brand not only in wine industry but across all alco-beverage segments.
The article is derived from a research paper written by author for Journal publication.