To fresh be-gin-nings: Homegrown brand making a splash

Industries across the board have been brought to a standstill. How can brands work to effect a positive upturn and help those whose jobs have been displaced by this crisis?

Just about everyone is in the same boat for once. Everyone is struggling, sales have fallen off a cliff, and certain products and services have just been ruled out entirely. One of these is the Bar & restaurant space, which has evolved over time to be a place you go to feed off the energy even more so than the actual food or drink. This industry as a whole has just imploded and even by best estimates is going to take a minimum of 6 months to get back on its feet. There are about 7 million people employed in this industry of which at least 2 million are expected to have lost their jobs already.

As a Gin producer, around 30% of our sales used to come from the Restaurant & Bar space. While this obviously goes out the window for us, there is a hope that the retail space shall make up for it as people continue to drink at home.

While this is welcome news for us, since retail is opening back up again across India, we are very aware of the difficult situation our peers in the bar & restaurant space find themselves in. Multi-national firms with big budgets have been doing their part and contributing lots of cash to specific groups within the industry with the hope that most of it finds its way down to people in real need.

We decided we needed to approach this problem quite differently and look to create opportunities instead of simply finding the most relevant avenue for a meaningful donation. We have created commission-based jobs for members of the F&B industry who have been displaced by COVID. For every sale that is made, these individuals stand to make a considerable sum – the entire margin we as a company would have made on that sale.

The idea is to give each one of these people a chance at meaningful employment in this time while they wait for their industry to bounce back.

This is definitely not charity. We also make business sense of this as an investment. We are a small company in its growth stage and we always find ourselves spread too thin. We have 23 people in our team trying to cover as many bases as we possibly can as quickly as we can. So the additional 27 people we have recruited so far through this program (called the GT Squad) have really beefed up our presence on-ground and should hopefully allow us to make a greater impact as attention shifts towards retail for the coming few months.

You could say this is a win-win situation. It is certainly something new that we are very excited about. The GT Squad “formally” kicked off on the 1st of June and the plan is to keep this open till the end of the year and continue to induct people into the program as we go along.

India’s history with gin goes back a long, long way. How then is it not a more popular social lubricant? Do you see this trend changing?

There are two ways of looking at the Gin market in India:

  • It is only 1% of the overall spirits market in India
  • That still makes it the 5th largest Gin Market in the world

Most of this volume comes from the bottom of the pyramid with mass-produced Gins priced below Rs. 300 a bottle. Not what you want to base a Gin industry on.

The exciting part is the huge growth numbers we are seeing in premium and super-premium Gins and this is where our brands – GREATER THAN and HAPUSA sit. We certainly hope that with good quality locally-produced options in the Gin space, there will be more excitement around this category and it will grow to become the leader in the white spirits category at the very least. Everything we have observed till date certainly points towards the fulfillment of this prophecy.

We truly believe that the Gin & Tonic is far better suited to our climatic conditions than dark spirits like Whisky and Rum which one would naturally expect in cooler conditions. Sitting as we are, bang in the middle of summers, one would certainly imagine reaching for a cold Gin & Tonic (a drink which was incidentally invented in India) over a Rum-Water or even a Whisky on the rocks for that matter.

Having worked on the launch of Hendrick’s Gin in India in 2010 and now have started our own Craft Gin company, I can quite clearly see the difference in consumer attitude. From not wanting to be caught dead with a glass of gin in 2010 to scrambling for tickets to a sold-out Gin event in 2020, the change is hardly a subtle one.

Once the Covid-19 hangover subsides, do you see a new crop of alco-preneurs bubbling to the fore?

This was already bubbling away prior to COVID. Lots of people had spoken to us about starting their own Gin brands and we are expecting and hoping that we get a few more brands to add to the category before this year is over.

Outside from the Gin space as well, there is a lot more excitement, and not just in craft beer. We’re seeing Cider, Mead, liqueurs, and bitters all being the talk of the town. It’s certainly a sign that more and more people are willing to take a risk – not just with consuming something new, but diving into a new business altogether.

What are some of the key trends you foresee in the Indian alco-bev space?

A push for better quality being led by independent players rather than established stalwarts of the traditional industry. Further, a move away from the export-focus which was seen when Amrut, Rampur, and Paul John were launched, as our domestic market finally starts to mature. And lastly, a tidal shift away from Whisky and Rum towards Gin …maybe that one is just plain wishful thinking!

Anand Virmani is the Founder of Nao Spirits and Beverages, and creator of India’s first-ever craft gin brand. Anand Virmani calls himself a brand curator with a serious passion for F&B, and can often be found making craft batches of gin while running around looking busy.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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