Amarula makes a splash in India

Distell, South Africa’s biggest wine and spirits producer, has launched its flagship cream liqueur Amarula in India, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

India is an investment market for the creamy beverage at the moment and the focus is on distribution rather than revenue. (Image: Distell)

Brand South Africa Reporter

Distell, South Africa’s biggest wine and spirits producer, has launched its flagship cream liqueur Amarula in India, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

The company, which already markets its top-selling Nederburg and Two Oceans wines on the subcontinent, introduced Amarula in the states of Maharashtra and neighbouring Karnataka, two of India’s most affluent and populous regions, during March 2009.

Maharashtra’s capital Mumbai is home to the Bollywood movie industry, India’s largest, and the city is also a cultural, retail and tourist hub. The city of Bangalore in Karnataka is India’s IT capital and is considered to be the country’s most modern city.

Investment market

Distell’s MD for Asia Pacific and Middle East, Marius Fouche, said it was difficult to predict the rate of growth of Amarula in India at this early stage. “But we are available in the same market with quite a lot of other brands including Nederburg. We have been experiencing double digit growth and in the last year, we have seen more than 300% growth in volumes,” he commented.

India is an investment market for the creamy beverage at the moment and the focus is on distribution rather than revenue. “We want to make our brands available in hotels, restaurants and especially in the retail sector,” said Fouche, “as retail in India is growing very big and it has been predicted that by 2015, it will be at R86-billion ($8.8-billion). We would like to be a part of it.”

Research carried out by management consultancy McKinsey & Company indicates that India will move up from its current ranking as the world’s 12th largest consumer economy, to fifth on the list within 15 years. The time is right to establish the Amarula brand in this hungry consumer market.

Distell reports that it is planning to secure as many distribution outlets as possible by March 2010. Judged the best cream liqueur in the world in the 2007 and 2008 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, Amarula is currently available through duty-free outlets and top hotels in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Exotic aroma

“The exotic marula aroma is abundantly clear on the nose with delicate spice in the back ground and hints of chocolate and coffee,” was the verdict of the judges at the Wine & Spirit competition. “A delightful product.”

Amarula first appeared on South African shelves in 1989 and in the two decades since has grown into a fierce competitor on the world’s liquor markets. The versatile drink is enjoyed by locals and tourists like, in more than 160 countries on all continents.

Superbrands South Africa named Amarula as a superbrand for 2008/2009, citing its market dominance, overall market acceptance, and longevity, as well as customer loyalty.

Elephants love it

Synonymous with the good-living South African philosophy, Amarula is made from sugar, cream and the fruit of the indigenous marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), known locally as the elephant tree or the marriage tree. Like its relatives the cashew, mango, and pistachio, S. birrea belongs to the Anacardiaceae family.

Traditional marriages are often conducted under its shady branches and the female marula tree is one of Africa’s most prolific fruit producers, viewed as a symbol of fertility and a good omen for marriage.

However, the tree’s most well-known nickname is derived from the fact that elephants are very partial to marula fruit, the small yellow berries that grow in large numbers on the tree in February and March. When they drop to the ground elephants come from far and wide to feast.

The trees are not cultivated but grow wild in the bush throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Under Proclamation 257 issued in 1951 by the Controller of Timber in South Africa, the marula tree is a protected species, and the treatment and harvesting of both trees and fruit is regulated.

and the vitamin C-rich fruit is usually gathered by local residents before processing begins. The golden harvest is then brought to the production plant in Phalaborwa using anything from bicycles to bakkies (small pickup trucks).

Over 60 000 people benefit from marula harvesting as well as from the extraction of the kernels, which are separated from the flesh by hand, and used in health and beauty products.

The flesh is taken to the Distell fermentation plant in Stellenbosch, where it is placed in fermentation tanks. The resulting marula wine then undergoes distillation, followed by maturation in oak casks for about two years. The final step is the addition of marula extract and cream.

Social responsibility

The elephant is an integral component of the Amarula branding and also is a central focus of Amarula’s social responsibility programme. The company has channelled over R3-million ($310 000) for funding of research into elephant conservation under the Amarula Elephant Research Programme based at KwaZulu-Natal University.

The programme was established in July 2002 and enables a team of local and international academics, working with government conservation agencies and private game reserves, to develop best practice for conservation management of elephants in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Amarula also assists in community growth through training in basic business skills and the provision of health and child care, among other initiatives.

In Limpopo province, where the trees grow in abundance, an annual three-day marula festival attracts visitors to the town of Phalaborwa. The programme features all things marula, including marula beer and other products made with the fruit, such as massage oils, butter, jam, chutney, fruit pulp, soap and candles.

All parts of the tree are used, from the leaves which are chewed to alleviate heartburn and indigestion, to the bark which can be made into a useful infusion to treat pain from snake bite and scorpion stings.

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