19 Jun 2015 22:14 IST

Getting the high from Tetra Paks

Both liquor companies and users are happy as the packs are handy and the contents can’t be adulterated

It is a drizzly evening in Bengaluru. Most of the traffic seems to be heading home. I’m at Dewars Wine Stores on St. Marks Road. No, I’m not here to pick my poison for the evening, but to meet BJ Vikram, whose family owns the outlet that opened in 1946. I want to get his views on an Indian single-malt whisky on which I’m writing a feature story.

As Vikram tells me about the well-off neighbourhood and its taste for expensive single malts, his hands are busy at the cash counter. Most of the times, he is handed a ₹100 note and Vikram returns ₹20, though sometimes its ₹50. And then I see what the shop assistant is giving the customers — liquor in Tetra Paks , packaging that is mostly used to store fruit juices.

“This is very popular here in Karnataka. Any liquor priced below ₹100 now comes in a Tetra Pak,” says Vikram. Just then, another customer comes and asks for a whisky brand in Tetra Pak. I pick up one and immediately sense why this is popular. The packet contains 180ml of whisky; it is compact and can easily go into a pocket. “And it is very easy to dispose of too,” says Vikram, with a smile.

No bottles

An executive from the industry says that United Spirits was the first to introduce liquor in Tetra Paks in the market five years ago. “Glass bottles had become expensive and it was very difficult to source them. There is no company now in southern India that makes glass bottles used in liquor industry,” he says. The last glass factory in Kerala, owned by Excel Glasses Ltd, was shut down in 2012 after the company reported losses due to increasing costs of electricity and raw materials.

A Tetra Pak container costs half the price of a glass bottle. Companies love the packets for that. Also, transporting Tetra Paks is much easier and there is hardly any loss, unlike in the case of glass bottles that are more fragile. Another issue is that of adulteration and a Tetra Pak helps prevent that. Almost half of the hard liquor in Karnataka is now sold in these containers.

One of the companies that sells liquor in Tetra Pak form is Amrut Distilleries, which is now more popular for its high-end single malt whisky than its mass brands. But the company owes its spirit, well, bread and butter, to these mass brands. Amrut now sells 40 per cent of these low-priced brands in whisky, rum and brandy in Tetra Paks of 180ml and 90ml. The company also claims to have pioneered the use of pouches to sell liquor. Every month it produces 70,000 cases of pouches, each containing 90ml of spirit. “The pouch is made of food-grade polyethylene and is certified,” says a senior official.

Tetra wave

After Karnataka, now other states are waking up to the benefits of this packaging solution. Last week, the Government of Uttar Pradesh announced that Indian Made Foreign Liquor will soon be sold in the State in Tetra Paks to avoid smuggling.

In April, Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal announced that Tetra Paks would be used to stop the sale of adulterated liquor and prevent duplication.

Safety

Is alcohol served in Tetra Pak safe? Most think it is. But in 2013, an NGO had filed a PIL in Mumbai High Court saying that sale of liquor in plastic bottles and Tetra Paks should be banned as they could be hazardous to health.

At present though, those with a taste for liquor have nothing but praise for the handy Tetra Paks.