The liquor industry tends to be dominated by men, its products are consumed far more by men than by women, and in India, women, especially the poorest women, have often been virulently opposed to the consumption of liquor. Nagarajan, who was previously associated with Reckitt Benckiser, will not be the first woman to run a liquor company in India, but she will be the first to run a very large liquor company.
Abanti Sankaranarayan, who is currently USL’s director of strategy and corporate affairs, was CEO of Diageo India between 2010 and 2015, but it was then that the British beverage giant had a very small presence in India. Diageo jumped to the number one position here after its acquisition of USL.
Kripalu will step down at the end of June, more than a year before his contract expires, the company said.
Kripalu joined at the end of 2013 and assumed the main position in May of the following year. It is leaving after a very difficult year, the Covid pandemic caused the closure of bars, pubs, hotels and restaurants and retail store sales plummet. The fortunes of beer and spirits companies have been negatively affected several times in recent years, including after demonetization and a ban on the sale of liquor on the roads, a ban that was lifted after a few months.
USL extended Kripalu’s tenure until 2022 last year, but the company said it is leaving to pursue other opportunities.
Under Kripalu, who had stints in Mondelez and Unilever, USL focused more on its premium products, beverages that produce more margins compared to mass market beverages. Such drinks, which include Johnnie Walker whiskey and Smirnoff vodka, now contribute more than half of the company’s volumes and two-thirds to the top line.
“Since 2014, as part of our transformation journey, we have established a clear strategy to grow our brands with a strong focus on premiumization. Reinforcing this trend of premiumization, last year, the luxury segment grew faster than the premium segment, which in turn has grown faster than the prestige, “he told TOI last year. Revenues grew at a CAGR of 23% to Rs 28,589 crore between 2014-15 and 2019-20, while the number of cases produced (from 9l each) dropped to 80 million in the last fiscal year from 117 million in 2015. USL’s share price under his command remained stable, reflecting the mixed fortunes of the sector as a whole.