In conversation with Prem Dewan, Managing Director of DeVANS Modern Breweries Ltd.
60 years and counting please share your journey since inception.
Prem Dewan – Devans Modern Breweries Ltd. was founded in 1960 by Dewan Gian Chand with the commissioning of a liquor bottling plant on the outskirts of Jammu. Devan Gian Chand started his career as a journalist and even came up with local newspapers- initially Ranbir and then Chand which were the premier newspapers of J &K during the pre-partition period and thereafter. The company branched into manufacture of beer in 1967 with a production capacity of 2000 bottles a day, initially filling beer with a manual soda water filling machine! Thus began the journey of DeVANS.
The Company went into substantial expansion in 1972; however, the period saw the emergence of new breweries in Punjab and Haryana resulting in huge overcapacity in North India with the result that breweries went into huge losses; and subsequent sale of Punjab Breweries and Indo Lowenbrau breweries to the UB group. DeVANS could however weather the storm and came out leaner and stronger, and continued to raise production by investing regularly in its production facilities. DeVANS set up a new, most modern state of the art brewery at Kotputli in Rajasthan in 2006 which at that time was the most modern and one of the biggest breweries in the country from where it started supplying quality beers to over 20 States and also commenced exports. The brewery started filling beer in cans in 2008 and was one of the very few breweries in the country with this facility at that time.
DeVANS shut down the old Jammu brewery which was right in the city in April 2006 and the same month commissioned another most modern brewery at Samba in J&K. While the Rajasthan brewery has a production capacity of 75000 KL per annum, the Samba brewery has a production capacity of 40000 Kl. The Samba brewery is producing quality beers- lagers, wheat, strong etc. in bottles, cans and kegs. DeVANS is the only brewer in the country with a beer containing 8% alcohol- the highest allowed for beer in India. It is also the only company in the country with a strong white beer viz. Six Fields Cult.
Production capacity of over 1 lakh KL. What is your marketing strategy and future plan for expanding DeVAN’s portfolio?
Prem Dewan – DeVANS plans to consolidate its operations in the States where it currently operates and make its brands much stronger by focussing on its marketing operations. It has already entered into production tie ups with two breweries in Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand where it already had a strong presence; and while the Arunachal tie up started operations in January this year, the Jharkhand tie up would start operating this month with production expected in early June. DeVANS plans more such production tie ups in States where it has a strong presence in order to increase production of its brands and fight competition more efficiently. We have planned for a volume of about 8 million cases of beer from its production facilities in FY23 and hope to cross the 10 million mark in FY24.
We are constantly experimenting and developing new, innovative brands in order to increase sales. Last year we came up with two new brands – both firsts in India in their respective categories- Godfather Super 8, a strong beer with 8% alcohol – the highest allowed in the Country, and Six Fields Cult – a Belgian Style strong White beer with 7% alcohol. We plan to
come up with newer products during the course of this year as well. A lot of work goes into development of new brands and it takes more than a year to develop a new product!
With regard to marketing, we have been taking a strategic communication approach to reach out and establish rapport with all stakeholders. We intend to ensure an omni-channel presence.
What are your USPs, can you elaborate on how does CO2 cartridge works for your beer kegs?
Prem Dewan – DeVANS is known for the products and their highest standard of quality- be it in beer, malt or any other spirit. Our company takes pride in the fact that our malt spirit and beers are second to none in quality and our brands have been coming right on the top in their respective categories during blind tasting events in the country. We focus completely on quality.
Our Kotsberg Pils won the silver medal at the Brussels Beer Challenge in 2021 during the very first year of its participation in the prestigious competition which speaks volumes about the quality of our products. Being a major seller of matured malt spirit, we are also the force behind some of the largest selling liquor brands of the country.
We do not try to copy anybody but create our own way. Our Samba brewery is filling beer in 650ml and 330ml bottles, 500ml and 330ml cans as well as draught beer in 20 litre and 30 litre kegs. We are the only brewery in the country with a 5 litre keg in its portfolio. These 5L kegs give the beer consumers the unique experience of having tap beer in the comfort of their homes. The inbuilt CO2 cartridge in the keg keeps the beer fresh and consumers can consume the beer at leisure without worrying about it becoming stale.
How has the current war impacted the supply chain of malt/ raw materials?
Prem Dewan – There has not been any major impact on our supply chain or raw materials due to the current war. However, cost of all inputs has risen phenomenally. Bottles, crowns, labels, cartons, barley malt- you name it. Barley prices are at an all time high and have risen by over 80% compared to last year.
To what extent did the pandemic affect your business?
Prem Dewan – Maximum revenue of the breweries comes from the summer months which account for 40% of the total annual volume. FY21 was really bad for sales due to the complete lockdown during the summer months and even thereafter and beer sales just plummeted. The summer of 22 was better, but just, as Covid reared its head again in May 22. Most breweries suffered huge losses, especially in FY21.
However, things seem to be returning to normal with a bang and making up for time lost during the pandemic. We expect our sales to grow by over 30% in FY23 with volumes more than doubling due to our production tie ups.
What have been the changes in the liquor industry in the last 6 decades?
Prem Dewan – The major impact during the past few years has been the improvement in the quality of all products across all segments- be it the economy or premium as also in the packaging. Consumers have become more discerning and manufacturers have been forced to improve their product quality in order to remain relevant. The entry of international brewers in the country has been the catalyst. DeVANS has played its part by putting up two most modern breweries in the country during this period and is one of the very few brewers standing up to the might of the international brands. It now has brands in all segments which it is constantly upgrading.
Share your one memory with your father Dewan Gian Chand Ji and how you’re following his footsteps by continuing the legacy?
Prem Dewan – Dewan Gian Chand can rightly be called the pioneer of industries in J&K. He put up the liquor and brewing units in Jammu when there was hardly any industry in the State. Self-made, humble, up righteous, frank and completely independent; and willing to experiment. The liquor unit was started with a couple of rooms and expanded meticulously by reinvesting all cash flows back into the business. The brewery had expanded from an initial production of 2000 bottles per day to over 60000 bottles per day when he passed away in 1982.
We have been following in his footsteps and taking the legacy forward. We have been investing heavily in our manufacturing units and our installed capacity for production of beer now exceeds 110000 KL per annum. We are shortly coming out with our own single malt whisky in his memory which would be a fitting tribute to him.
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