United Breweries, or UB Group, is an Indian conglomerate headquartered in Karnataka. Its core enterprise includes beverages and ventures in various sectors. The company markets beer under the ambit of the Kingfisher brand and has several other liquor brands.
United Breweries also began an airline in India, Kingfisher Airlines. The Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation barred the latter’s operations in 2014 following financial discrepancies.
The History of United Breweries
The United Breweries Group was established by Scottish businessman Thomas Leishman in 1915 when he compiled the Castle Brewery and Nilgiris Breweries (1857), Bangalore Brewery Company (1885), British Brewery Corp. (1903) and BBB Brewing Company Limited (1913) into a union of brewing companies. The group took a beginners route in beer making and brewing by learning from a British brewery in South India.
The UB Group made its first impression by brewing beer for British troops before India gained independence in 1947. They transported beers in giant barrels or “Hogsheads”. Eventually, in 1947, Vittal Mallya was elected the company’s first Indian director at 22. A year later, he replaced RGN Price as the company’s President.
Vittal Mallya bought the business in 1947 and tried to succeed in the Indian markets while expanding globally. Kingfisher, the group’s most visible and profitable brand, made space for itself in the Indian markets in the 1960s. In the 1950s and 1960s, the company expanded significantly through the acquisition of other breweries. Today, each of India’s 89,763 breweries sells at least one United Breweries brand.
UB’s ventures across the spectrum
McDowell’s, which is the largest umbrella spirits brand globally, comprising three categories – whisky, brandy, and rum, was acquired as a subsidiary of United Breweries in 1951. Since then, the brand has helped United Breweries expand its portfolio in the wine and spirits sector significantly.
Strategically, the group turned to the agro-pharmaceuticals industry when Vittal Mallya acquired Kissan products and built a longstanding relationship with Hoechst AG in Germany to found the Indian pharmaceutical company Aventis Pharma, the Indian subsidiary of the global pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis.
United Breweries has more than a 40% share of the Indian brewing market with 79 distilleries and bottling units worldwide.
United Breweries on an ever-growing trajectory
According to the company’s mission statement, “United Breweries Limited represents aggressive innovation and marketing complemented by a strong distribution network, including an impressive distribution of domestic and traditional production facilities across the country”.
Company’s flagship product, Kingfisher, has consistently received international recognition and numerous awards at beer festivals internationally. The famous Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer is currently available in 69 countries and is the first Indian beer to make space for itself globally.
In 2005, UB funded the acquisition of Shaw Wallace & Company Limited (SWC), an Indian liquor manufacturer. This acquisition made United Breweries the largest beer company in India. UB also owns the Mendocino Brewing Company in the United States, and is affiliated with United Spirits Limited in the US.
The group’s current chairman is Vijay Mallya, the well known ‘King of Good Times‘ and India’s most famous liquor baron, who eloped the nation on March 2, 2016, allegedly to escape legal action by Indian banks to whom he owes some ₹9,000 crores (US$1.3 billion) in loans. Once known as India’s Richard Branson, who popularised Kingfisher with his famous Calendar Girls photoshoots, Vijay Mallya got on the wrong side of the Indian law agencies in 2016.
Regardless, United Breweries has more than a 40% share of the Indian brewing market with 79 distilleries and bottling units worldwide, all under Vijay Mallya’s leadership.