Back in April the Kerala State Beverages Corporation Ltd. (Bevco) announced that it will soon open three posh liquor outlets with self-help counters in the cities of Cochin, Kozhikode (Calicut) and Thiruvananthapuram. This move was seen as a means to woo its high-end customers; I say finally the State liquor corporation plans to enter atleast to the 20th century! Unlike other countries and perhaps some Indian states, Kerala current sees the BevCo’s with cutomers not allowed inside the outlets. You have outlets with counters setup and you have to stand in cue outside and in between the metal bars setup to form some kind of order and wait for your turn. Once you reach the counter you ask for your beer / vodka / whiskey / brandy / rum or other drink of your choice and wait the minute or two as the men behind the counter get them for you from the shelves behind them. They then wrap them up in newspapers and hand it to you as you fork over the cash.
Going by the government policy not to open any new liquor outlets, the corporation plans to open these on the first floor of existing shops where space is available. The corporation is losing considerable revenue from its premium customers who are wary of waiting in long queues and under the gaze of onlookers to buy their bottles. These customers would rather walk in to a bar and pay a higher price for the drink than wait in the queue, say officials. The facility is being planned to meet the requirements of drinkers who opt for premium brands, and no new shops will be opened. Only rum priced above Rs. 500 a bottle, and brandy and whisky with a price tag of Rs.700 and above will be sold through the self-help outlets. In Kochi, the corporation is looking for space in central city areas, including Kaloor and Palarivattom, officials say. The corporation will spend around Rs. 10 lakh a unit, which will be air-conditioned and spread over an area of around 1000 sq ft. It also expects a sale of around Rs. 1.2 lakh and 160 customers a day.
The serpentine queues outside the retail outlets — often portrayed as indicators of Kerala’s fad for alcohol — need not reflect the real picture, say corporation sources. One outlet caters to around one lakh people in Kerala where there are only 338 retail outlets. It is a negligible figure when compared to around 7,000 outlets in Tamil Nadu, 8,500 in Karnataka and 6,500 in Andhra Pradesh, they say. Each of these shops in neighbouring States caters to an average of 8,000 customers a day.