INDIA: Cobra to announce three licensing deals

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Cobra Beer is on the verge of announcing three fresh licensing deals in India, the UK brewer's founder and chief executive told just-drinks today (17 July).

Lord Bilimoria said Cobra, which already has a licensing agreement with local brewer Mount Shivalik to produce the Cobra brand for the Indian market, would announce the three new deals "very soon".

He said the deals had been signed and, although he refused to be drawn on the identity of the Indian brewers, said they were "spread out all over India".

Lord Bilimoria was talking as Cobra revealed it had delayed its plans for a stock market flotation, but said it has raised GBP27.5m (US$50.1m) to fund expansion in key markets worldwide.

He said that Cobra was now working towards a listing in June 2009. "We were working towards a float in terms of corporate governance, systems and so on," Lord Bilimoria said, "but we had an opportunity to raise the largest sum of money we ever had in one go to take the brand to another level before we float."

Cobra plans to use the cash to accelerate growth at home and in India while developing other export markets including South Africa.

Lord Bilimoria said Cobra was eyeing annual sales growth of 50% over the next three years and had earmarked India as key to meeting that target.

"The Indian market is still very, very small and hasn't even started to really take off. The government has yet to fully liberalise the market," Lord Bilimoria told just-drinks.

The Indian beer market, though growing at around 7% a year, suffers from stiff regulations on advertising and distribution, as well as high taxes. Two brewers, United Breweries and SABMiller, which hold around 48% and 31% of the market respectively, dominate the market. Advertising restrictions also make it tough to introduce new brands into India with SABMiller having difficulties bedding its Castle brand into the Indian market.

Nevertheless, Lord Bilimoria was confident about the potential of the Cobra brand in India. "There are very few international players in the Indian market, very few international brands there," he said. "India has got a long way to go in terms of the proliferation of brands that you see for example in the UK, the world's most competitive beer market."

He added: "The four brewing facilities will make a huge difference to us and even with all the restrictions in advertising, you can still promote the brand. The sales and distribution possibilities open to us are enormous."

Lord Bilimoria founded Cobra in 1989 and has built the brand to become the biggest supplier of lager to curry houses in the UK. Cobra is brewed in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland.

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