Why does India struggle to produce luxury brands?

Chandon bottle Image copyright Chandon

In a dark, stylish bar in Mumbai's historic Colaba district, the city's well-heeled locals and expats mingle.

The soundtrack is chatter, lively jazz through speakers and the popping of corks.

But it is not French champagne that is being poured. This is an evening to promote something made much closer to home.

After just a couple of years, Chandon is one of the best-selling Indian sparkling wines - produced with grapes grown a couple of hundred kilometres outside of Mumbai.

Costing 1,200 rupees ($18; £11.60) a bottle in the shops, it is being marketed as affordable but also luxurious - something Chandon's owners, the French drinks group Moët Hennessy, know plenty about.

India's thirst for expensive spirits, especially whisky - made investment in the wine industry an easy decision, says the firm's president of wines Jean-Guillaume Prats.

"There's clearly a base of consumers who want the Veuve Clicquot, the Krug," he says.

"And then there's new generations, young individuals who have studied abroad and, having improvement in their incomes, want to enjoy fine, luxury, Indian-made products."

But do they really?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jaguar cars are still seen as a British brand, despite its Indian owners

India's luxury market is undeniably booming - up by about $255m a year according to Euromonitor International, which predicts the sector will have grown by 86% between 2013 and 2018 - faster than China, Malaysia and Indonesia.

That spending is coming from the burgeoning urban middle class and an expanding number of the super-rich. According to the Wealth-X and UBS Billionaire Census India ranked sixth globally in terms of billionaires last year.

But the brands they spend that money on are almost all international.

Hermes, Jimmy Choo, Gucci and Burberry are just a few of the names renting space in the shiniest shopping centres of Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.

And when it comes to cars - Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche and Ferrari report soaring sales - and not just in the big cities.

But while India, through its Maharajas, was once famed for local luxury from desert forts to tailor-made fashion - finding high-end Indian brands is tricky.

Ask around now - and most struggle for examples - with the exception of hotel groups like Taj and Oberoi which own top-end properties around the world.

Jaguar cars are owned by Indian conglomerate Tata (though the marque is still seen as very British).

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption India's jewellery market is dominated by Indian firms

And then there is jewellery.

"Jewellery is one category where there are people who'll pay an arm and a leg for things without batting an eyelid - but then would really think twice about buying a Louis Vuitton handbag," says Neelesh Hundekari, partner at consultants AT Kearney.

"It's is a luxury market that in India is dominated by Indian firms. The likes of Cartier and Tiffany's have negligible presence here."

Some argue the lack of Indian brands to spend money on is not worth dwelling on in a country where nearly 22% of the population - 265 million people - are below the poverty line living on less than $1.25 a day.

But you have to look at the whole picture, argues Nikhil Agarwal, chief executive of All Things Nice - an events business that specialises in luxury wines and spirits.

"You can't deny the high levels of poverty," he says. "But one tier of Indian society, the wealthiest, has as much, or more money than rich people all over the world."

Tea trail

But despite that level of disposable income, Indian luxury brands are not flourishing.

Analysts think the Narendra Modi government's Make In India campaign will encourage more high-end Indian products - be that gourmet food or gadgets.

"There has to be something Indian about it for it to succeed, the nature of the product, the ingredients. A successful Indian brand should be big in India first before it has any chance of being big anywhere else," says Mr Hundekari - giving the example of Shanghai Tang, the domestic Hong Kong fashion label that gained far broader global appeal.

Some brands that have made it into that coveted Indian-made luxury category include Forest Essentials and Kama Ayurveda - two cosmetics ranges which export heavily.

Image caption Radhika Chopra says the quality of her tea is key to its success

For Radhika Chopra, getting her boutique tea brand No.3 Clive Road to foreign markets is one ambition.

But she also has another - taking a domestically grown and packaged product - and selling it as a luxury item to the Indian market.

"Our customers are used to drinking regular Indian tea so we need to educate them that there are other options. They need to know that there is a difference in quality and they need to know where the tea comes from," she says.

She knows success will depend on the tea's quality rather than where it comes from - but argues nationalism does come into it.

"Our customer is someone who is proud of a beautifully designed and quality product that is Indian made. Indians know how to spend money, they just have not been given other options."

But already she has hit on an issue that international luxury goods makers are also struggling with - getting Indian consumers to pay the same for products as they cost in Singapore, New York or London.

Image caption Ms Chopra hopes to sell her Indian tea brand, No.3 Clive Road internationally

And her answer? To be pragmatic.

"Traditionally defined luxury products, such as high-end international brands Louis Vuitton and Dior, do not operate at a lower price point in India compared to the rest of the world," she says.

"But we are much more sensitive to our customer's purchasing power for a local brand, so as we expand we are acknowledging a lower price than comparable companies abroad."

And that is the right approach says Nikhil Agarwal - who warns anyone targeting the Indian market needs to know they are up against a canny consumer.

"Even wealthy Indians are conscious about money - nobody throws their money away, it's in the psyche," he says.

"Indians like to reduce costs, we're always looking for value for money even when it's luxury. It's ingrained in us."