India’s Billionaire Beverage King Is Adding More Fizz To His PepsiCo Bottling Empire

This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of India’s Richest 2023. See the full list here.

At a glittering ceremony held in Cancun in May, beverage giant PepsiCo conferred the award of International Bottler of the Year 2022 to Varun Beverages, one of its biggest bottlers outside the U.S. Collecting the trophy on behalf of the India-listed company was its billionaire founder and chairman Ravi Jaipuria, dressed in a traditional Nehru jacket and accompanied by his son and executive vice-chairman Varun, after whom the company is named.

Dubbed India’s cola king, Jaipuria has been busy lately expanding his soft drinks-to-fast foods empire at home and exploring new markets in Africa. Apart from soft drinks, the 68-year-old also controls publicly traded Devyani International, named after his daughter, which is a franchisee of Pizza Hut, KFC and Costa Coffee in India.

Propelled partly by Jaipuria’s ambitious moves, shares of Varun Beverages have been on a tear, helping to boost his fortune by more than 40% to $11.5 billion. The company’s net profit more than doubled to 15.5 billion rupees as revenue rose 49% to 132 billion rupees for the year ended March 2023. Devyani International wasn’t far behind, reporting a 44% jump in annual revenue to 30 billion rupees in the same period.

“We are evaluating the possibilities and determining whether South Africa is a viable market to enter.”

The Indian soft drinks market is expected to grow about 5% annually on a compounded basis over the next four years to touch $9 billion in 2027, according to Statista, a German data platform. Jaipuria is eyeing that potential with new bottling plants in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha.

“Varun Beverages has made significant investments in production and distribution,” wrote Abneesh Roy, executive director of Mumbai-based brokerage Nuvama Institutional Equities, in an August report. “The company has an extensive beverage portfolio among all major companies, helping it capture upcoming trends.”

Apart from India, Varun Beverages has a presence in Africa with operations in Morocco, Zambia and Zimbabwe. While these account for 15% of the company’s revenue, Jaipuria is looking for expansion here too and established a new subsidiary in Johannesburg in May. “We are evaluating the possibilities and determining whether South Africa is a viable market to enter,” Jaipuria said by email in August.

Meanwhile, Devyani International is seeking to piggyback on India’s fast-growing quick-service restaurant market, which is expected to expand more than 20% on a compounded basis to touch $5.3 billion by 2027, according to Research and Markets, a Dublin-based market research firm. The company is on track to open between 225 and 300 outlets this fiscal year to reach its target of 2,000 stores by 2026. Currently it has close to 1,300 outlets, across 242 Indian cities, with 60 stores in Nigeria and Nepal.

The youngest of three brothers, Jaipuria studied in the U.S. and moved to Montreal, where he ran a small real estate and textiles business. He returned to India in 1985 following his first wife’s death in a plane crash and joined the family’s Coca-Cola bottling business. After a family division in 1987 he got one bottling plant in the northern Indian city of Agra. Four years later, he decided to switch to PepsiCo, just when India liberalized its economy.

Jaipuria’s other business interests include minority stakes in hospital chain Medanta and New Delhi-headquartered Lemon Tree Hotels. He also chairs privately held Devyani Food Industries, which sells the Creambell brand of ice creams, and Cryoviva India, which offers stem cell storage services.