Cobra puts the bite on lager giants

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The Independent Online
THE traditional lager market, dominated until now by European brands, is facing a Vindaloo-strength challenge - from an Indian brewery.

And heading the sales pitch, in a poster and radio campaign dreamed up by Team Saatchi, is "curryholic" Dave who claims his tipple offers salvation from "internal argy-bhajie" - in a series of ads that feature him building the "Millennium Poppadome" and flying around the world in a giant take- away curry bag.

Cobra lager, developed in the exotic location of Bangalore and formulated to prevent drinkers from feeling bloated, is now on sale at Waitrose and Tesco - and hopes to achieve success on the back of Britain's booming Indian restaurants sector that's now worth pounds 2bn a year.

Asif Hashmi, editor of the influential Tandoori Magazine, explains: "There is an Asian renaissance going on at the moment. Asian fashion and music are becoming more mainstream and some of the top clubs in London are now Asian. Something similar is happening with Indian beer."

Cobra is hoping to put the bite on after sales doubled in the six months once the company began producing it in the UK last year. Marketing manager Julia Minchin says: "We had a 100 per cent year-on-year increase in sales and so far this year we have had an 85 per cent increase.

"We are trying to make Cobra a premium lager in its own right as there is definitely a market beyond the Indian restaurant."

Karan Bilimoria, Cobra's founder and managing director, says: "Our research shows that curry has almost taken over as a national dish in this country. Some 51 per cent of the population actually consider themselves to be what we have coined `curryholics'.

"And, these days, curry lovers want to enjoy the total Indian experience which includes drinking a Cobra, a genuine Indian lager."

But Cobra, now being produced here by Bedford's Charles Wells brewery, still has a long way to go to match well- established lager giants such as Stella Artois and Carling.

Said a spokesman for market research company AC Nielsen: "A company promoting a new brand needs to create awareness in their product.

"To rank alongside the big boys is a lot to ask. But anything can happen and tastes change."