Nowadays whenever you go to a decent restaurant, the first thing you notice on your table is a bottle of Himalayan or Qua or some other premium bottle of natural mineral water! If you pick up the bottle and see the price tag – it’s nearly double the cost of a regular packaged drinking water bottle such as Bisleri and Kinley. The questions that immediately come to your mind are – Why is this water so costly? Why would anyone want to pay double the cost for water? How is this water different from the other affordable water bottles? Does anyone really buy this costly water?
Surprisingly, for a poor country like India, premium natural mineral water currently accounts for nearly 15% of the total packaged drinking water (in value) sold in the country. In fact the natural mineral water market in India, which is currently around INR 10bn, is expected to reach around INR 32bn by FY 2018 according to ValueNotes' recent report titled Packaged bottled water market in India 2013 – 2018.
Current scenario for the premium natural mineral water segment in India
First let’s see the difference between regular packaged drinking water and natural mineral water. Natural mineral water is drawn from an underground spring, packaged close to its source and meets the quality standards without processing. Packaged drinking water on the other hand is sourced from any source that has been treated and disinfected using a process that could involve filtration, UV / ozone treatment or reverse osmosis before it is fit for human consumption.
Currently nearly 90% of the sales for natural mineral water come from institutions such as hotels, restaurants, fitness clubs and air ports. The majority of the sales happen either in metro cites or tourist destinations such as Jaipur and Goa. Key consumers include mostly the tourists and high profile customers who demand only premium products or Indians who have traveled abroad and have tried natural mineral water.
Presently Bisleri’s Vedica brand and Tata’s Himalyan brand are the biggest players with nearly 60% of the market share, but many other local premium brands such as Aava and Mulshi and various imported brands such as Perrier and Evian are making their presence felt in the Indian market.
Most of the current players in this segment are serving specific regions, with their focus still on urban tier 1 cities. They are still not able to reach distant smaller cities and town with large tourism potential. Only few large players such as TATA and Bisleri are currently in a position to serve Pan India due to their extensive distribution network and brand name.
What is really driving the market?
The biggest drivers for this industry are the growth in foreign tourists and expatriate population, as well as the Increasing consumer awareness and brand consciousness amongst Indians.
The tourism industry in India is the country’s third largest service sector, and has been showing tremendous growth due to India’s vast collection of cultural heritage sites. Due to campaigns like “Incredible India”, the number of foreign tourists in India has increased by a CAGR of ~7.2% over the last 10 years to reach 7mn in 2013. But if you look at global numbers of foreign tourist arrivals, India stands at a poor 39th rank, where in even tiny countries such as Malaysia and Thailand have more than three times the number of tourists than what India has. This shows that India has tremendous potential when it comes to growth in the tourism sector.
The current BJP government is trying to address this, by planning to improve the local infrastructure, including better roads, improved airports, better hotels and better sanitation. In fact the BJP, in its manifesto, has confirmed that tourism plays an important role in socio-economic development through creation of jobs, infrastructure growth and foreign exchange earnings. It is planning to kick off a project to create 50 tourist circuits that are attractive yet affordable. These circuits are expected to promote tourism in the Himalayas, deserts, coastal regions, heritage and archaeological sites of India. They have also announced tourist visa-on-arrival for all except eight countries in the world, as well as the start of the Electronic Travel Authorization (online visa). All these drivers are expected to help the tourism industry in India to grow by more than at least 10% YOY for the next 5 years.
Apart from tourism, India has witnessed growth in its corporate sector leading to an ever increasing expatriate population who are major consumers of packaged drinking water, especially natural spring water. In fact according to a recent HSBC survey, India has become home to the second largest proportion of high-earning expatriates after China and ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Russia and Hong Kong. According to The Economic Times, the hiring of expat workers in India has amplified by about 20% since 2010 and estimates suggest that there are about 50,000 expatriates currently working in India.
Most of the tourists and expats are concerned about the quality of water in India and prefer to use premium quality brands of mineral water during their stay.
I think the increase in the number of tourists and expatriate in the years to come, will be the biggest driver for natural mineral water sales in India for the next few years.
The road ahead
Considering that the market is quite attractive and that the entry barriers are quite low, I think that the competitive rivalry is going to be tough in the premium natural mineral water segment, but the intensity won’t be as much as that of the packaged drinking water segment. The key thing to remember is that this segment needs a superior quality product with excellent distribution network and brand image which makes it a little difficult for a new player to enter and survive in this market. Only the players who are able to work out an optimal distribution system along with an impactful marketing strategy will be able to last in the long run.
Lastly, though tourism is set to fuel the growth of this segment in the short run, I think industry players cannot afford to ignore the larger segment of the market, which is the ever increasing Indian middle class that is striving for a better and healthier life style.