The Scotch Whisky Association, which for years has been battling against India’s fake Scotch whisky, has won a rare victory in court here. India’s rapidly growing $22-billion market for alcoholic drinks is flooded with products that label themselves as Scotch whisky and use Scottish imagery like bagpipes and tartan, and yet are made locally and have nothing to do with Scotland. Some of these imposter Scotches are even more like rum, made from molasses, than Scotch whisky, which is distilled from grain or malt. Earlier this month, a court in Goa granted a temporary injunction which prevents two Indian firms – Glenmon Distillers & Vinters Pvt. and Imperial Distillers and Vinters Pvt.– from referencing Scotch whisky on its products, the Scotch Whisky Association said.
The companies sell products under the brand names Royal Barrel, Glenmon and F&G. The court further ruled that Glenmon – and indeed any product with “Glen” in the title – was not allowed because it brought to mind the world-famous Scottish Glens, or valleys. “The defendants have indirectly misled the general public by using the word ‘Glenmon.’ They are directly misleading the general public by using the words ‘Scotch whisky,’” the association quoted the court ruling as saying. The Goa-based companies are contesting the injunction in court, the association said. Attempts to reach the companies were not successful. A person answering a cell phone number listed for Mohan Krishna, chief executive of Glenmon, declined to give his identity and said the person at the company who could answer questions about the issue was not around.
The association brought the action against the companies in Goa as part of its years-long world-wide attempts to protect companies in Scotland that make genuine Scotch whisky. In June, the association won another victory when it persuaded India’s government to allow genuine Scotch whisky producers to put “geographical indication” labels on its products to differentiate them from fake Scotch. Still, these are only small steps to breaking in to India’s lucrative drinks market. The injunctions in Goa are temporary and for two relatively small companies. The king of Indian whisky, Vijay Mallya, the billionaire owner of UB Group, which has two thirds of India’s spirits market by sales, continues to sell products like Bagpiper Whisky, made largely from molasses. Another major goal for Scotch whisky producers would be to get India to reduce central government tariffs on whisky imports, which currently stand at 150%, and other state levies which further hinder trade. (Before a World Trade Organization ruling in 2007, the central government tariff was 550%, one of the highest on any product in the world.)
Foreign alcohol producers are salivating at the prospects of the Indian market. Rising income levels and a culture of drinking whisky among the upper classes – a hangover from colonial days – mean it is booming. Datamonitor, the consultancy, in a report last year estimated the market will be worth $39 billion in sales by 2014, up from $22 billion in 2009. Although the market for beer is predicted to grow faster, Indians today prefer spirits. In 2009, almost two-thirds of the 6 billion alcoholic drinks consumed were of hard liquor, according to Data Monitor, and the majority of that was whisky.
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