In the year that Manvendra Singh has been the sales manager in Nepal for Seagram Manufacturing Ltd, he has seen the company's profits double. The teetotaler talked to Nepali Times about branding, anticipation of Dasai sales and the effect of politics on consumption patterns
Nepali Times: Are Nepalis drinking more?
Manvendra Singh: Yes, I think so. It is traditional, and it is accepted. In general, Nepalis don't lose control. The most important thing is that they know how much they can drink and how to carry themselves. 'Drink responsibly' is what we say.
Seagram's has mastered the market for brown spirits. How did
you do it?
Since we come from a multinational background, our style of working is a bit different from domestic companies. We are very selective. We never compromise on quality and we have a lot of patience. The company is comparatively very new, just five to six years old in India as well, but we have swept the market because of our organisation, ethics and the environment in which the company operates. We don't spend a lot on advertising, but in whatever we do we try to maintain and sustain the quality of Seagram's Royal Stag. For example, cricket was not a very popular game in Nepal, so we tried to bring the fervour to the country and it really clicked. People appreciated it and now there is more involvement with cricket in Nepal, especially with the recent under-19 international victory.
Wouldn't football have been a better choice than cricket?
We have three themes with Royal Stag. We're associated with Jai Nepal, the best cinema in the country, where we have special Royal Stag Mega Movies premieres. Another theme is Royal Stag Mega Music: we sponsored Jazzmandu 2003. Mega Cricket was a relatively new concept for our brand because we were trying to cash in on the Cricket World Cup fever, which is now over.
How much has the ban on TV advertising affected your sales?
We are immune to these things because in most countries, even in India, advertising alcohol on TV is not allowed. To some extent, this is reasonable. We encourage responsible drinking. We don't want to push our brand by saying that consumers should have more and more. Besides, we have liberty in the print media and are satisfied with that. Basically, it is not advertising that sells the brand. It should be the quality of the product. Advertising is done according to need.
Does the arrival of Dasai mean a spike in sales?
A culture that condones, even encourages, alcohol consumption during festivities is an advantage. But the macro-environment is also important. Until the country is in a stable position no one will really be in the mood. Normally, Dasai is really good for sales. But this year it hinges on the political situation. The festival also arrives with colder weather, when people enjoy their drink more.
How do you intend to stay on top?
Teamwork. Once the quality of the product is up to standard and we are satisfied, we can deliver it to our consumers. Then our brand people think about what message should be conveyed by the product. The sales force implement directives from the senior management. And then step in one of our most important trade partners-the distributors, wholesalers and retailers. It's all teamwork.
Has the global trend towards wine arrived in Nepal too?
We import approximately 40 containers of wine, which is about 40,000 cases a year-quite a large consumption given the geographical area of Nepal. Per capita consumption is quite high compared to other third world countries. To follow this trend, we will soon be launching Jacob's Creek wine. It makes sense to have an alternative to hard drinks. Our main target consumer is the upper middle class, aged from 25 to 40. Since Jacob's Creek is a young brand, it is an ambitious and aspirational one.
You say you want to increase sales, but also want customers to drink responsibly. How do you reconcile the two?
We want to get the consumer the best product available in the market. We emphasise the quality of the grain part of the whisky. Grain-based whisky mixed with malts is not that hard. Of course it's a whisky, but above all it is a quality product.
So how come you don't drink yourself?
Although I don't drink our products I have been trained to detect the qualities of a good whisky: colour and aroma. Being a non-drinker is not a real handicap