Sunday, May 16, 2010


Among various heady brews, feni is a Goan drink that has many fans. In the above picture, we see a person making feni.

Last week at Guwahati on a work tour was very interesting. Many things have changed in the past 10 years. Guwahati is now more peaceful (ie., relatively speaking, compared to past). A developmental attitude is also there, thanks to the media that is changing mindsets in places like Guwahati.

Alcohol consumption on the upswing

During my 18 odd years of travel, if I have seen any noticeable trend, year after year, it is of ever increasing consumption of alcoholic beverages (not only in Guwahati but elsewhere too). In the early 1990s, seeing families in bar and restaurants was a rarity. Today, it is not so. Consuming alcoholic beverages is seen as thrilling - that which provides a sense of elation & excitement, a feel good activity, or a habit that helps overcome sense of remorse. Westernization too is having a major impact on Indians. Supermarkets have alcohol beverage sections. Alcoholic beverages are taken in shopping carts by people! Earlier, people would take alcoholic beverages surreptiously! So, overall, alcohol beverage market is seeing sizzling growth.

For entrepreneurs and marketers, alcohol beverages is an attractive market. This is because it is large growing market, and because the likes of Godrej, Tatas, Ambanis, Mahindras and Birlas will not immediately enter this segment due to ' moral reasons' or 'value systems'. Hence, professional competition by the people with deep pockets will be lesser in this market. So fast growth in the alcohol biz market is an attractive preposition for many marketers.

Even people who do not consume alcoholic beverages or do consume it very occasionally, are interested in marketing alcoholic beverages because it is a habit based market. There is competition, but a lot of money to make, because people are habituated to it. The logic of such marketers is: IF YOU DO NOT MAKE AND MARKET ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, somebody like Vijay Mallya will do it and laugh all the way to the bank! So as a businessman, why should I miss the boat?! A salesman said to me: Let us say, you are a marketer of antihypertensives, will you consume the product just because you market it?! You will do it, only if you need it or want it! So you need not consume alcohol just because you market it!

People who consume alcoholic beverages, are by and large, habituated to it. So the customer is always there for the alcoholic beverage product. As one alcohol beverage salesman said: it is about getting the prospect or customer to like the first peg! After the second peg, taste does not matter!!

Growth of alcohol beverage market and impact on health

Alcohol is perceived as an exciting good mood drink. When alcohol is taken it initially makes a person uninhibited. This makes it appear that alcohol improves mood, makes the person bolder and if he is anxious or depressed, the person feels he is getting over it. However, nothing can be further than truth. Alcohol is pharmacologically defined as a PRIMARY CONTINUOUS DEPRESSANT. Alcohol gives an initial feeling that the person is not depressed. But later it increases depression.

One cannot help but recollect my conversation with an advocate. He was narrating an incident where a senior pharma marketing person with whom he was sharing drinks, after a few drinks this marketing guy started sobbing in a depressed manner. So alcohol consumption is about precipitating depression and getting further depressed! Alcohol is known to make people reckless and irresponsible too.

So the moot point is that alcohol consumption will in fact, increase mental ill- health and products for mental health management like anxiolytics, antidepressants, sleep inducers, cognitive enhancers, and alcohol deaddiction medications will see major boost due to increased growth in sales of alcohol beverages.

Irresponsible and reckless behaviour will also see increased violence (for eg., domestic violence) and accidents. This will increase consumption of medications for mental health, first aid medications, and wound healers.

Why do people drink alcohol?

Some reasons are: curiosity, to be with the crowd, TO GET OVER THE FEELING OF EXHAUSTION, JOINT PAIN AND MUSCLE PAIN, to relax ie., as an antistress drink, and finally due to PHYSIOLOGICAL ADDICTION (craving).

Health market due to alcohol

Alcohol has its first impact on the stomach. Most alcohol consumers suffer from hyperacidity, acid peptic disease, heartburn, and GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disorder - where acidic gastric contents undergo back flow in to the alkaline environment of esophagus and cause irritation and burning pain). This problem is increased when alcohol consumers smoke or eat spicy "sides" or spicy foods along with booze.

Hence, one can safely conclude that the pharma market for hyperacidity or heartburn will always see a good growth, thanks to the alcohol consumers.

Moderate drinking of alcohol is said to be very beneficial. If you click here you will access studies on the benefits of alcohol - that are so convincing that you will feel like taking a peg immediately!

Frankly speaking, personally I have not met any 'moderate drinker' in my life. Either there are people who drink regularly (good amounts), or there are some who drink rarely due to certain people pressures or do not drink at all. I do not recollect meeting a genuine 'moderate drinker'.

One can safely suspect that many of the so called benefits of alcohol are in fact, marketing gimmicks meant to enhance acceptance and sales of alcohol. The long term effects of alcohol are well documented, they can cause liver disease, cardiovascular dysfunction and cancer too.

The most powerful impact of alcohol is on the liver. This organ, which is the largest internal organ of the body bears the insult of alcohol. The liver recognizes it as a foreign body (or xenobiotic) and works hard to convert it to an easily excretible chemical. In the process the liver gets damaged. The initial manifestations are fatty liver (where fat deposits in the liver), then hepatomegaly (liver enlargement), followed by hepatitis (inflammation of liver), fibrosis (growth of hard connective tissue fibre as a part of healing process) and finally cirrhosis (where the liver becomes hard and completely fibrosed). Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition and is fatal.

In India, the alcoholic drink market is said to be Rs. 8200 crores with per capita annual consumption of 0.5 L (the per capita annual consumption in China is 20 L, and in USA it is 100 L). One estimate puts the growth story of alcoholic drinks market as very positive - it is estimated to reach 3 billion liter mark by 2012 (in 2008 it was 1.95 billion liters). As the billion strong (100 crores) Indian population is youth oriented (60% is less than 30 years), growth of beer market is a very strong - estimated to reach 17.2% CAGR by 2011. Another report mirrors the growing popularity of vodka.

Basically India is seeing a revolution of sorts. Westernization, increased earnings, a youthful population, and media penetration, are all influencing consumption patterns. There is a growth of both of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages drink markets. The increased off-take of alcohol beverages presents an opportunity for marketers; pharma marketers will also see growth of certain markets like anxiolytics, liver protectives, antipeptic and antihyperacidity drugs etc, due to increase in alcoholic beverage consumption.

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