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Brand sustenance

Editorial |

It is, as yet, only a promise ~ yet it reassures. By announcing their commitment to promote and resurrect their family heritage, the nephews of Brig. Kapil Mohan, who died recently, are seeking to sustain not only once-famous, family-owned brands in the liquor trade but continuing their uncle’s battle against major commercial houses with immense marketing muscle. Mohan Meakin’s products (originally Dyer Meakin) include Old Monk rum that was once third in the global best sellers ranking; Solan No.1 a single-malt whisky that had dominated the market after Independence, and Golden Eagle beer that was said to match the famous Murree beer of pre-Partition renown.

What marks the Mohan Meakin story unique is that Kapil Mohan (who steered the family business) hardly ever imbibed. An active member of the Territorial Army, he was more than satisfied retaining sizeable contract from the defence services: one reason why his brands hardly “grew” and ~ Old Monk excepted ~ were gradually squeezed off the shop-shelves. Kapil did venture farther, with limited success: Gold Coin apple juice did gain much popularity, and Mohan’s corn flakes are still on sale despite an international brand landing on the market. It is an Indian irony (hypocrisy?) that while domestic products that challenged all-powerful multinationals did earn some political support ~ Dukes lemonade and Campa cola being a couple of examples ~ the David versus Goliath scenario did not extend to the arena of alcoholic beverages.

And the netas finding it politically advantageous to dub them “liquor barons” meant that Mohan Meakin ploughed a lonely furrow. Perhaps it was its own worst enemy in commercial terms, yet there was something heroic to Kapil Mohan’s repeated spurning of overtures from multinationals and his insistence on doing things in the traditional manner. It certainly elevated Old Monk to iconic status, and there are many who still yearn for a bottle of Solan No.1 or a guzzle of Golden Eagle. Other brands  did enjoy some patronage but never quite the same devoted following as the “thoroughbreds” of the stable.

The “younger” Mohans have a fight on their hands, there is a lot of “catch up” to be played for the IMFL trade has exploded in recent years, and liberal imports have added a new dimension. Marketing and sales promotion have developed into a fine art, so while Old Monk might have a base from which a re-launch could be mounted, reviving the patronage for Solan No. 1 will require a huge effort, particularly if the refusal to yield to MNC-pressure is sustained. Still, tipplers are large-hearted blokes, sentimental too, and provided their legendary quality persists would laugh away modern marketing gimmicks to reach out for a shot or two to salute the late Brigadier who never showed the white flag to new kids on the block.