Online liquor delivery remains a non-starter due to steep delivery fees, lack of clear guidelines
Online liquor delivery remains a non-starter, four months after markets like West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh permitted the same, said company and industry executives, attributing the slow burn to steep delivery fee charged by aggregators Swiggy and Zomato and lack of clear guidelines. Online food delivery, in contrast, has reached pre-Covid numbers.

“Charging cost of delivery on top of the retail prices has put off consumers after liquor became easily available in shops. Unless regulators frame rules that recognise online sales as a new channel within the existing pricing structure, it will remain on the fringes,” said Vinod Giri, director general at Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC).

During peak lockdown months, while the central government had permitted opening of shops to sell essentials, it had denied sale of alcoholic beverages, which led some states to allow online delivery of alcohol.

Spirits brands such as single malt maker Amrut Distilleries and whisky maker John Distilleries said retail outlets must be roped in to bring fair trade practice.

“The government should encourage licensed retail outlets to set up their own portals to sell alcohol rather than allowing aggregators such as Swiggy and Zomato,” said Rakshit Jagdale, managing director of single malt maker Amrut Distilleries. Jagdale said unlike aggregators, regular channels pay an annual license fee, making it unfair for that section of the trade, adding that the company has not directly benefited from the online platform. “Online players will directly eat into the share of conventional retail outlets,” he said.

Leading liquor firms such as United Breweries, Radico Khaitan, Amrut Distilleries and John Distilleries said that the e-commerce model for liquor will take a few years to scale up.

Kingfisher beer maker UB managing director Rishi Pardal said: “The online food delivery model will take time to scale up; this is no different to what happened for the food and grocery segment.”

United Breweries and Anheuser Busch InBev (AB InBev) that control three-fourths of the market had recently told ET that e-commerce had not been able to drive sales since beer packaging is bulky and needs to be delivered chilled.

Amar Sinha, chief executive officer at Radico Khaitan that sells hard spirits such as Magic Moments vodka and 8PM whisky, said: “With the nationwide unlock in phases, people are returning to offline stores. But we foresee online sales to pick up in times to come.”

A senior executive with a beer manufacturer said the online model comes with loopholes and liquor being a state subject has created ambiguity. “There is no uniformity in policy guidelines creating much ambiguity for consumers,” he said.

Sources in the industry said that Karnataka, which was keen to implement the online model, has now put it on pause mode. “With the cases of the virus increasing, government officials don’t want to discuss a ‘taboo’ subject like alcohol,” said an industry executive on conditions of anonymity.

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