Ironhill India: Brewing innovation

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Ironhill India’s Teja Chekuri who started Andhra Pradesh’s first microbrewery talks about doing things differently and building his own niche

By Anurima Das

The concept of alcoholic beverage retail in India is still very nascent and innovation in this segment is mostly restricted to the product as compared to the process. However, Teja Chekuri, Managing Partner, Ironhill India is now focusing on India to create a concept where you can enjoy authentic varieties of craft beer served with good food in a great ambiance.

Ironhill India was started in 2017 by Teja Chekuri, as the first microbrewery in Andhra Pradesh. After the successful launch in Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, and Hyderabad, the team opened its 4th outlet in Bengaluru on 26 March 2021. Ironhill India in Bengaluru is located in the IT hub near Marathahalli and is spread across a lavish 1.3 lac sq. ft making it the largest microbrewery in the world. Since the Bengaluru launch, the brand has established footprints with a swanky new outlet in Nellore and Rajahmundry as well. The Ironhill India team plans to expand its footprint across 10 more locations in 2022 across Maharashtra, Goa, Haryana, and Chandigarh. Plans are afoot to open 3 more outlets in Mysore, Mangalore, and Pune by the end of the year via a franchisee model. Operating through this offline expansion model, Chekuri wants to innovate the processes of retail with technology support in order to bring about a change in this rather traditional industry. Here’s are excerpts from a short conversation with him about the industry and how he looks at its growth in the coming days.

Ironhill India microbrewery

Tell us a little about your brand’s retail journey in India. Ironhill began its journey with the launch of its first outlet in 2016, in Vizag. Thereafter, we expanded to Vijayawada, Rajahmundry, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Nellore, with our Bengaluru microbrewery being the largest microbrewery in the world currently.

Tell us a little about the brand story and how did you plan on the range based on Indian customer needs.

So Ironhill was born out of the need to bring world-class craft beers paired with great grub to the Indian brewing scene. The idea was to provide unique as well as classic styles of craft beers to our customers in an ambiance that really bolsters the craft experience.

Ironhill, is not a one-trick pony, in the sense that, our focus is on being a holistic dine-out space with a great craft beer experience, which means we are equally geared towards providing great food, cocktails, and entertainment through events in a majestic ambiance.

We plan our range based on current events, seasons, and the Indian taste palate – Indians generally prefer low hop beers, and a variety of other factors with a healthy dose of innovation thrown in.

Operating within a niche, what has been your strategy for growth?

We believe in providing quality offerings at a great price point. We have focused on growing in a balanced way; hence we have a first mover advantage in Tier 2 cities which we then used to propel our growth in Tier 1 cities. We believe growth in Tier-2 cities is an unravelling story due to the huge untapped potential and spending power present there, and that’s what we have banked on.

Keeping COVID in mind what has been your focus for the brand? How did you manage to engage with the customers in these testing times?

During Covid, we ensured that we followed SOPs and protocols. This was conveyed to our customers through every channel possible so that they felt safe dining with us. At the same time, we looked after our staff and trained them to prepare for such challenges and that’s held us in good stead.

Any significant challenges that you had to overcome during the initial lockdown phase?

With business coming to a halt and the looming uncertainty during those times, we really had no real baseline on what to expect and if we would survive while retaining our staff. However, the staff was with us through those tough times because of how we value them and that has helped us get back up on war footing once the lockdown measures were eased.

What about the evolving customer sentiments, how would your account for the changing persona of the consumer for your segment and brand in the pre-and post-COVID era?The Post COVID era so a spurt in dining out, and business has been brisk and, in some aspects, surpassed our expectations as the numbers are as good as pre-pandemic times.

As compared to the pre-covid era, I believe, the customers now want to get out often, and are open to trying new things and experiences. Now with offices re-opening, the spending power is returning, so that’s a positive.

Did you revisit your offerings considering the changing mindset of the customer or the pandemic-led market reform?

We have always believed in our product so we did not really have to change our offerings a lot. We maintained the consistency and quality that we are known for and launched unique products every month or so, so that’s helped us retain our customers while also helping us in acquiring new customers through product-driven hype.

Ironhill India microbrewery

Any special innovation or technology, you want to highlight that makes your retail journey meaningful?

Our innovation is product-driven. So, we recently launched a Kiwi cider, which looks green and tastes like a Kiwi fruit, with an added punch, of course. Similarly, we have launched Coco Brown Ale in the past that tastes of coconut and chocolate, and we continue to innovate on those lines.

With our food, we have often focused on highlighting local specialties on the menu, and that’s helped us titillate the taste buds of foodies while keeping them on their toes about our upcoming offerings.

Tell us a little about the marketing plans or strategies that you put to work to make the customer aware of the brand and its range.

We have a tech-savvy, creatively driven marketing team in-house. We have yearly plans in place with events marked for important dates throughout the year. This goes hand in hand with new product launches and events for our patrons that act as a value add.

What about the pricing for the brand? Since value is a big factor that Indian customers eye for every purchase, how do you ensure that your products are priced decently to offer both value and affordability?

We pride ourselves on par with our competitors, so we are well aware of the market conditions. What we specialise in is product innovation, so at a price point that is competitive, we offer fairly unique products while providing exemplary service and that sets us apart.

Lastly, connecting the dots how are you orienting your supply chain model just to deliver faster to your customer at every step?

We are a dine-in space, so our supply chain is fairly sorted as we have multiple vendors for our raw materials and our inventory management is planned such that we always have enough stock in hand without having excess stock or less than necessary stock. This helps us keep wastage as well as offerings in check. Within our restaurants we have sections with dedicated trained staff for each section, so customers get their orders within the minimum stipulated time.

The article first appeared in September-October 2022 issue of Phygital.