Diageo, other drinks firms cheer ladies' nights in India

Drinking

Women who drink, long portrayed as less than respectable by Bollywood movies and still wary of entering most watering holes, are becoming big business in socially conservative India.

Makers of alcoholic beverages, including global No.1 Diageo, are taking notice of this small segment of India's $10 billion drinks industry that is growing more than twice as fast as the overall sector and presents a significant, if delicate, market opportunity.

With more women in the organised workforce, gaining financial independence and interacting with their male counterparts in social and professional settings, the idea of them drinking is slowly gaining acceptance.

"As recently as in my mother's generation it was frowned upon, and it is now perfectly acceptable to have a glass of champagne or white wine," said Rajeev Samant, founder and chief executive of Sula Vineyards, the largest domestic wine maker.

Two years ago Sula launched Dia, a light, slightly sparkling wine aimed at female drinkers that comes in a slender bottle with pastel-coloured labelling and has a lower alcohol content. The company is adding more low-alcohol options and expects women to account for roughly one-third of sales this year.

COCKTAIL CULTURE

French drinks group Remy Cointreau, whose Cointreau is an ingredient in a Cosmopolitan, the signature cocktail of the TV show "Sex and the City", launched the orange liqueur in India three years ago to tap the burgeoning women's market.

"There is a rise in the cocktail culture and a significant part of that is because of women," said Rajesh Grover, marketing manager for the Indian subcontinent at Remy Cointreau, which holds promotional events that offer steeper discounts to women wearing higher heels.

Still, despite boasting the world's largest whiskey market, Indians are overall among the world's lowest consumers of alcohol. Only 30 percent of men and 3 percent of women have at least one drink a year, according to the India Centre for Alcohol Studies (INCAS), a government research body.

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