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HomeFeaturesBrandmaSynonymous with ‘paani’, Italian-origin Bisleri made water a commodity in India

Synonymous with ‘paani’, Italian-origin Bisleri made water a commodity in India

Acquired by Chauhan brothers for Rs 4 lakh in 1969, Bisleri has come a long way and is now an integral part of the Indian consumer culture.

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Paani, jal, neer, vellam — these are some of the common names of water in Indian languages. But the one synonym for water, common across all Indian languages, is Bisleri.

Bisleri is not the only brand in the world which has achieved the feat of synonymising itself with a product, but what’s exceptional about it is that it made water a product, especially at a time when such a feat seemed inconceivable.

Bisleri International’s chairperson Ramesh Chauhan (82) announced earlier this week that he was in talks with Tata Consumer Products Ltd (TCPL) to divest the brand for Rs 6,000 – 7,000 crore. He had bought the brand for a mere Rs 4 Lakh in 1969. 

Bisleri was perhaps closest to Chauhan’s heart who kept the brand with himself when he sold his soft-drinks portfolio — Thums Up, Gold Spot, Citra, Maaza and Limca — to Atlanta-headquartered Coca-Cola in 1993.

Bisleri introduced 20 litre cans in 1991 and also has a premium water brand, ‘Vedica – Himalayan Spring Water’, which the company claims is sourced from a “spring in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand”.

The brand also offers a Bisleri Soda, besides three other aerated drinks, namely Spyci, Limonata and Fonzo, to its customers. Like its competitors Kinley and Aquafina, Bisleri too used blue-coloured labels on its packaging till 2006, when it adopted the sea green colour in a bid to stand out. 

Also Read: Tango, raspberry, lemonade — Duke’s fizzy, sweet drinks that were part of Sunday family rituals

Italian origin & entry into Indian market

Contrary to popular belief, Bisleri — the ultimate homegrown brand — does not have Indian origins, so to speak. 

The brand traces its roots to Italy where it is believed to have originated from a spring called Angelica in a town called Nocera Umbra. The brand was first conceptualised by entrepreneur Felice Bisleri, whose death in 1921 put his family doctor Dr Cesare Rossi at the helm of the company’s affairs.

It was only in 1965 that the first ‘Bisleri Water Plant’ was set up in India in Thane on the outskirts of Mumbai by Khushroo Suntook. Four years later, in 1969, the brand was acquired by the Parle brothers, Ramesh Chauhan and Prakash Chauhan, and launched in India in glass bottles and in two variants, Bubbly and Still.

In earlier interviews, Chauhan has revealed that selling packaged drinking water did not figure in his business plan at first and that he was looking to sell soda, which was in high demand in five-star hotels. “We had brands such as Gold Spot but no soda; in the late ’60s and early ’70s there was good demand for soda from five-star hotels. Bisleri Soda was popular, which is why I bought out the company. But we did not even look at the water business then,” Ramesh Chauhan had told Business Today in 2008.

Packaged drinking water caught Chauhan’s eye only after he sold off his soft-drinks portfolio, barring Bisleri, to Coca-Cola in 1993. 

“When the brand started, packaged drinking water only appealed to foreign tourists in India, so glass bottles made sense and were also more eco-friendly. But Indians gradually grew cognizant of global trends and became more inclined towards easy-to-carry packaged water and plastic packaging came to the rescue,” said Rajni Daswani, director of digital marketing at SoCheers, a Mumbai-based marketing agency.

‘Not every bottle of water is Bisleri’

But for Bisleri’s owners, distribution was a problem since distributors weren’t interested in a low-priced yet heavy product. 

Working on its distribution is what helped Bisleri stand out in its category, said Pratik Gupta, co founder of the advertising firm Zoo Media. “You can find Bisleri in virtually any corner of the country; the same can’t be said about competitors like Kinley and Aquafina. Yes, you find a lot of counterfeits of the brand. But counterfeits exist only because Bisleri has such wide recognition,” he told ThePrint. 

According to Bisleri’s website, it currently has 122 plants across the country, besides 4,500 distributors and 5,000 distribution trucks.

Bisleri has a market share of 32-35 per cent in the packaged drinking water segment and comes in eight different sizes ranging from 250 ml to 20 litres. 

It also uses packaging with labels in 11 Indian languages, including English — the multilingual labels were introduced in 2017 to combat counterfeits, under a campaign dubbed ‘One Nation One Water’. 

In fact, the lines between packaged drinking water and Bisleri became so blurred in the minds of the average Indian customer that the brand had to launch a campaign in 2018 with the tagline, ‘har paani ki bottle Bisleri nahin hoti’ (not every bottle of water is Bisleri) to create differentiation. The ad campaign, featuring camels, was an instant hit.

According to Daswani, the brand’s openness to change and swiftness in keeping up with trends worked in its favour. 

“Bisleri made bold changes to its packaging in a bid to tackle competitors who were encroaching on their market share by luring consumers with similar packaging. The brand entirely redid their look and feel, from blue to green, from the conical bottle shape to a more round one. Paired with an interesting ‘Har Paani Ki Bottle Bisleri Nahin’ campaign, it delivered the desired results and how! And time and again, the brand has strategically played upon its marketing and packaging tactics,” she told ThePrint. 

‘For Bisleri, the game is different’

Bisleri also stands out perhaps because it is the only packaged drinking water brand that boasts of drinking water as its flagship product and not a by-product. 

“Other brands are sold by parent companies like Coke and Aquafina because they need a lot of clean water to produce soft drinks. So water sort of becomes a secondhand offering. For Bisleri, the game is different. They’re in the business of selling water, not anything else,” said Gupta. 

The credit for this goes to Chauhan who marched ahead with his bold experimental approach since Parle got its hands on Bisleri over 50 years ago. 

Even at the time of discussing his plans to sell Bisleri, Chauhan was characteristically candid and revealed that he was handing the brand over to the Tata Group because of the values the conglomerate espoused and also because his daughter wasn’t interested in running the business. “His candour was so impressive. He revealed his motives of selling the business as is, it’s a rare thing today,” Gupta pointed out. 

Chauhan’s honesty translated into the brands he built from scratch over the years. And the same honesty is perhaps why those brands are now an integral part of the Indian consumer culture.

“I know it’s kind of stupid, but I genuinely believe Bisleri water tastes the best,” said Rachana Pathak, a Delhi-based travel entrepreneur. Adding, “It’s just a certain level of trust I have in the brand that whenever I have to buy water, I ensure I only buy Bisleri and no other brand.”

Also Read: Vicco — brand that made Ayurveda mainstream with its ‘nahi cosmetic’ jingle


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