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Driving Meaningful Engagement Through Activations-The Simba Craft Beer Story

Read this interview with Ishwaraj Bhatia, Co-founder and COO of Simba Beer about his vision for the brand and more

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Unlike several other beer companies, Simba makes its own beer at its flagship brewery in Durg in Chhattisgarh. And instead of producing beer in bulk, Simba prefers to make the beer in small batches giving enough attention and focus to the recipe of each beer.

This focus on quality has helped Simba Craft Beer achieve a turnover of 117 Cr in the FY 2020-21 even while battling the odds of the pandemic. In the FY 2021-22, Simba was back to its pre-covid numbers and reported a turnover of 150 Cr as opposed to the turnover of 125 Cr in the FY of 2018-19.

On the back of this robust growth, we spoke to  Ishwaraj Bhatia, Co-founder, and COO of Simba Beer about his vision for the brand and more.

There has been a strong rebound in the Alcobev industry, especially over the past year—how’s the experience been for you?

Owing to the pandemic, we have witnessed one of the most challenging two years of business. The alcohol industry at large has been one of the worst hit by COVID-19. Over the years, Simba has instilled immense trust among its consumers to enjoy Simba Craft Beer for its high-quality beer-drinking experience. Simba beers have performed well in the last two months owing to our brand recall and the high demand this summer. Customers have been buying aggressively, so we can happily say that we have bounced back strong. In comparison with 2019, our sales have increased multifold, along with our market share. And moving forward, I believe the next two-three months will be very fruitful for the beer industry, which is a good sign for us.

Give me a sense of how important event marketing is for a brand like yours. What is it that you do? And what kind of IPs do you look at?

As the pandemic has taught us to go back to our fundamentals and stick to the basics, this year we’ll continue to focus on driving meaningful content through virtual activations, long-term influencer engagement, cross-brand promotions, and like-minded partnerships. Building on Simba’s resonance with pop culture, we will continue our IP – Simba Uproar – a set of cool gigs with Independent music artists showcasing the Simba Lifestyle. Lately, Simba Craft Beer has collaborated with multiple home-grown music artists intending to promote the Indian underground artists and further elevating the Indie & Electronic music scene.

We have tried to experiment through our countercultures—for example, we are launching our brand line of streetwear this year. And on November 19 and 20, we are organising one of India’s biggest hip-hop festivals.  We are also working on “Cave Cocktails” which encourages people to make cocktails at home with Simba Beers as the main ingredient. We are actively promoting newer recipes on our social media handles for people to try. So these are experiences we want our customers to experiment with and eventually enjoy. And everything comes under Simba Uproar, an extension of the Simba Lifestyle.

What are the biggest challenges faced by the Alcobev industry as far as marketing is concerned?

The limited reach and impact of surrogate messaging have pushed the category to formulate new and alternative methods of engaging and growing its consumer base by going beyond surrogate advertising. 

In such a situation, the digital platform has emerged as a boon for the Alco-Bev industry. Introducing opportunities that were formerly unavailable to this sector. We utilise our digital assets through content marketing to engage with our consumer base by sharing fun, engaging, informative and relevant content via live sessions, videos, pictures, and timely updates. This has permitted us to create an impact.

Social Media supports us to reach our audience directly and engage in a meaningful manner. It helps us receive feedback in real-time, which at these times has been promising for us to bring home the experiences. It has also helped us creatively maintain brand recall and monitor emerging consumer trends and their buying behavior.

Lastly, social media has also allowed us to share regular updates with our followers on Simba’s availability in various cities in real-time, which supports building our digital footprint and community. 

Simba is synonymous with the craft beer revolution in India. How has it panned out for you guys so far?

I think it has worked out well. The craft beer industry in the country is not even 5%. Yet the awareness around it is growing very fast. Nowadays, people are more experimentative, plus those coming from abroad and studying the Tier-I market understand the difference between a good beer and one that is not so good. Simba was one of the first brands to start craft beers in India, and I believe we have done our part in educating people about it.

We have also seen a trend of Indian homegrown brands driving India’s Alcobev market. Is this trend here to stay?

Well, I would like to believe that. Covid-19 has been unkind to many brands. Take the beer or the gin sector as an example, we saw many brands that started as a hobby but couldn’t survive through COVID. Some companies shut down because they were heavily dependent on the strategy of crafting and ignoring the business side of it. There has to be a certain balance of relevant vision and experience behind whatever you're doing, be it in brewing, sales, or branding. Otherwise, it becomes difficult for any brand to sustain itself in the market.

What’s your vision for Simba over the next, say, two years?

As we speak, we are available in 15-16 states across the country. Our target is to have a pan-India presence by the end of 2024 with an unhindered supply. In the coming years, we are hopeful to launch in two or three foreign markets.

However, our current focus is India because by it is a huge market to capitalise on, and our pursuit is to be one of the top 3 brands in the beer category. I will not particularly say that we want to be the fastest-growing brand but a brand that grows consistently in the next few years.

From the distribution point of view, Simba is now accessible in 16 states. Few brands in the market enjoy monopolistic powers and naturally have the retailers favoring them. Nonetheless, we are witnessing growth in our distribution channels. As a brand, we do not want to be associated with rebates and schemes, unlike a few big brands that run on these techniques. We have distributors and partners with whom we can be aligned on a long–term basis and want to sell our beers to the retailers who are passionate about our brand and sell the beers across as if it’s theirs.

Additionally, we have always given weight to quality over selling our product in bulk. In today’s world, there are several trends to watch out for on social media but this time around we want to stick to the fundamentals and start with the basics and engage with our customers. We give due importance to the fact that we are a beer brand not wanting to sell just anything through social media.

In conclusion, we want to stick to our niche. Our Fundamental strategy is always going to be this with steady audience growth over a period of time.

As an extension of our brand, we are also working on introducing a new merchandise line and accessories in collaboration with other home-grown craft brands to boost our consumer base and engagement. The merchandise will be primarily available on our website and eventually expand to other e-commerce verticals.


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Ishwaraj Bhatia coo Simba beer interview

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