Baijiu in India: Rojita Tiwari
Baijiu is the spirit category with the largest sales volume in the world. However, it still seeks global fame, leaving us with something of a paradox. As Jiangxiaobai entered the Indian market in 2019, it made an important step towards broader acknowledgment in the world. To see how the Chongqing producer of light aroma baijiu is doing in the huge market of India at the beginning of 2020, let’s hear what spirits expert Rojita Tiwari has to say.
You are a prolific spirits columnist, sommelier and bartending coach. Can you please tell the story of how you got involved with Chinese baijiu first?
I have been working in the liquor industry since 2006. As a wine and spirits journalist my job is to keep an eye on the latest trends in the drinks industry and various styles of spirits with a potential to capture the consumers attention. Few years back when I first judged at the international spirits competition, Spirits Selection held in China in 2015, I had my first baijiu. Since then I have been tasting and judging a number of styles of baijius from different regions in China. Then in 2018 I met Zoe [Zoe Fupeng, director of the international business center at Jiangxiaobai] during his visit to India and tasted Jiangxiaobai for the first time. Really liked the light aroma style baijiu and decided to introduce it to the Indian consumers.
After Jiangxiaobai’s official launch in India, you’ve been doing baijiu master classes for the bartenders. How did the participants react to the unfamiliar spirit?
The reaction to JXB has been a very encouraging one. Since the launch in December, when we did around 4 masterclasses, to starting mid-January till now, I have conducted 8-10 training sessions, bar takeovers and tastings for the trade and consumers. The first reaction is always a surprise followed by excitement to learn more about baijiu and about Jiangxiaobai.
Why is it that bartenders play such an integral role in the market strategy of Jiangxiaobai in India?
For any new drinks brand or category to be successful, it needs to be accepted first by the bartending community only then the consumers can accept it. Hence, the idea is to first familiarise the category of baijiu amongst the bartenders who are at the forefront and let them play around with Jiangxiaobai creating their own version of JXB cocktails. It is a very important strategy for Jiangxiaobai in India.
As far as we know, Jiangxiaobai is the first baijiu brand that officially entered India. Why do you think baijiu has a promising future in India?
Indian bartenders are at the forefront of an evolution. They are not only highly professional and skilled, but also eager to learn about new categories of drinks and brands. They are experimenting with flavours, ingredients and participating in international bartending competitions and winning many awards. The white spirits segment in India is mostly dominated by vodka, gin and tequila for now, however, they have also welcomed the first only light aroma style baijiu such as Jiangxiaobai with wide open arms to India. As they are always in search of something new. Which gives me the hope that we have a great future in India.
India is a vastly complex and challenging market. Can you explain a little more about the drinking culture in India? What are some of the drinking habits of Indians?
The drinking habits of Indians vary from place to place. Consumption in big cities is very different from the drinking habits in small cities and rural areas. While the big cities provide access to major international brands, small cities sometimes rely just on the domestic spirits and country liquor. Indians mostly don’t have the habit of drinking alcohol with food. However, with changing times, many city dwellers prefer to have drinks such as wine, whisky, beer or cocktails with food. Also, drinks have become a part of the celebrations in family or official environments.
What is the biggest challenge in promoting baijiu to Indian customers? What could be improved to make Jiangxiaobai products even more accessible?
The biggest challenge is to first break the perception of the few who have either tried or read about the more difficult styles of baijius such as sauce aroma and strong aroma baijius and think that’s all baijiu has to offer. Also, we have to educate the trade as well as consumers about the versatility of light aroma baijiu such as JXB. Since in India liquor promotion is banned, our best hope is to educate, train and introduce consumers to baijiu through less intimidating and more creative ways.
Last but not least, what’s your favorite way to enjoy a glass of light-aroma baijiu?
I have found that the best way to enjoy JXB is to add a few cubes of ice in a rock glass, pour some Jiangxiaobai PURE and just add a slice of orange or grape fruit. It works beautifully.
If you enjoyed this interview, you can follow Rojita on her blog Drinks and Destinations, a great source for tips on beverages and travel. To get more quality information about the baijiu industry and what’s happening at Jiangxiaobai, please check out our LinkedIn page at Jiangji Distillery.