Ganesh Iyer is Managing Partner (Indian sub-continent) of Zero Percent and India’s first Certified Water Sommelier. Brews&Spirits sought his views on the emerging NoLo beverage category based on his experience over two decades. Excerpts:
What do you think are the drivers for the growth and evolution of ‘sophisticated softs’?
I am quite uncomfortable with the segment being categorised as “adult soft beverages” or “sophisticated softs” for lack of a better or well-defined nomenclature. I’d rather go with the international definition of NoLo. Given the regulatory minefields that we have in India NoLo may not be the apt currency for the moment though.
The category of 0% in the very near future is on the precipice of an explosion, driven by various drivers. Broadly speaking it’s all about being mindful of myself – how I act, what I eat and drink, and what I represent. Also being mindful of what food and beverages are good for my body, for my family, and for the environment.
The main drivers are the shift in consumption towards healthier drinks, alcohol consumption restrictions due to health and religious concerns, a lack of clarity of ingredients on the alcohol labels, and consumer-focused marketing strategies for new product development.
In your portfolio, what is the likely split in sales between on- and off-trade? What are challenges to building a strong presence for this category?
We are on the cusp of a slow recovery from the pandemic; so it would be too early to attribute the split in sales. But it would be safe to assume that e-commerce will play a significant role, along with brick-and-mortar retail stores and HORECA.
I have been associated with the HORECA segment for more than two decades now. I would say one of the challenges is lack of awareness, education and training, especially with respect to NoLo beverages.
It has taken me more than 8 years at Veen, and still struggling, to drive the validity of natural mineral water in premium glass packaging. I still see lifestyle and luxury properties providing mere lip service on sustainability on industry platforms.
Even within the alcohol space, there hasn’t been any significant indigenous product innovations over the last two decades in the premium category that could merit an international standing.
To what age and sex demographic are your products targeted?
Under the Zero Percent umbrella, our products are not demographically restricted by way of age or sex. Our products are driven and promoted on the concept of mindful consumption. Our audience would comprise of someone who is likely to visualise and realise how alcohol affects his/her life in all aspects.
I would like to ascribe it as being a “flexitarian”, to explore alternatives in the given space. Even if you are a consumer who is not into alcohol, we represent brands which are low on sugar and calories, clean labels using all natural ingredients.
Are you open to collaborations with spirits brands? Or do you feel it would dilute the Zero Percent message?
We are here to provide a mindful lifestyle alternative concept with the wellbeing of the consumer being the pivot. We are open to working with brands that have a similar thought process.
What products and brands are we likely to see next?
Out of the 75-plus SKUs that form a part of the Zero Percent portfolio that we represent, own and distribute in 18 countries, we currently have nine of them in India.
Our responsibility and desire is to first establish them in a market which is more price conscious, rather than quality conscious. In that sense we have our hands full at the moment!