In soft drinks, quality is simply everything
We met Tim Warrilow of Fever Tree in Milan: five questions to the man who changed the world of mixers forever.
It feels like centuries ago, but before 2005 the carbonated drinks used in mixology were considered completely irrelevant. This sounds absurd when we consider that, for example, in a very popular cocktail like the Gin & Tonic they make up as much as 75% of the recipe. From this simple fact comes the iconic claim that is Fever Tree's mainstay: "If three-fourths of your drink is the mixer, then you should use the best." Today - 18 years after the London brand revolutionized the idea of quality in the segment - many have happily embraced this concept, and now Fever Tree alone accounts for 35% of the global premium mixer business.
The relationship between Fever Tree and Velier is a longstanding one dating back to the 2007 Salone del Gusto, when chef Ferran Adrià told Luca Gargano about this unique and yet-unknown tonic water. Luca immediately traveled to London to meet creators and owners Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow. As Luca himself told us,
We interviewed Fever Tree co-founder and CEO Tim Warrilow and asked him about the Italian market and future prospects. Here's what he told us.
Fever Tree forever changed the world of sodas, and one of the first markets to believe in this revolution was Italy. Does the Italian market still have any specificities compared to the rest of the countries where Fever Tree is present?
The answer is both yes and no. I'd say yes because one of the reasons why people, including me, love to come to Italy is definitely that you know how to eat and drink well. Traditionally Italians have always shown interest in quality ingredients as well as quality in general, something we have been seeing since the beginning. There is also a very lively and well-established community. These are the two reasons why Italy has always been a very important market for us in Europe.
In other ways, however, the answer is also "no", because one of the most stimulating things happening right now is the current trend where people drink more premium spirits and mixers than before. We are seeing this not just in Italy, I am happy to say, but globally, in Europe and the rest of the world. Seeing this trend grow more and more is a big advantage for Fever Tree - and not just for us but also for spirits, as they can be promoted and sold as mixed spirits as well. Today we're not just dealing with gin, tequila, vodka and rum brands but also with Italian vermouth and bitters, and this is really a great opportunity.
Regarding mature markets, what are the medium-term prospects for the evolution of on- and off-trade channels and what role can and should Italy play?
In the post-covid period we noticed differences in our markets around the world. Here in southern Europe, the on-trade market came back to life incredibly quickly – people were looking forward to going out again - which is normal, given the beautiful places and pleasant climate. In northern Europe things were very different, people have been much slower in going back to on-trade venues like hotels, bars and restaurants. Maybe it was out of caution, but there is also a more engrained habit of home drinking. Here on-trade consumption has changed very little. I'm sure in time everything will go back to normal, but this is what we've been seeing so far. However, what I find interesting is that one of the consequences of the pandemic was that people started making their drinks at home again, to a greater extent than before and as a widespread habit. I'd say this is really a growing trend.
Velier immediately believed in the quality revolution Fever Tree has been successfully spearheading. It's the same approach we take when choosing what products to include in our catalogue, as well as when we work as producers in co-bottlings. But how difficult is it today to reconcile a company the size of Fever Tree with a craft approach, for example when sourcing and processing ingredients?
This approach remains absolutely central to the brand and has never changed. One of the aspects of this business I put a lot of time and energy into is traveling to find new ingredients, only choosing the best. I always pay a lot of attention to quality, because I've always strongly believed and still believe that it's crucial for us to use the best ingredients possible. We don't compromise on this, it's something we have always done and still do, a strategy that has never changed. I recently traveled to India looking for ginger and I have other trips planned to find new ingredients. This is vital for our business and I think it has been key for our success, as well as our communication. We’ve been strongly emphasizing the differences in quality since day one. I think people appreciate this, that we don't compromise at any stage.
The Gin & Tonic continues to dominate the top of the list for long drink consumption, with increasingly layered aromas and styles. Fever Tree has already expanded the range of tonics, but do you plan to continue diversifying or do you think it's best not to overstretch the brand and only offer consumers a few, clearly identifiable options?
In the beginning we realized there was really no premium tonic water matching the increasing quality of gin options, which is why we went looking for the best ingredients to offer a superior product. Not only had each of the ingredients used up to that point been standardized and massified - another problem was the lack of choice. We strongly felt we had to bring variety into the category, so we started developing different styles of tonic water for different styles of gin. This is how our range of tonics came to be. This was the heart of our success, but it's not our ultimate goal. We are continuing to develop new aromas, and I can tell you we have many new products in the pipeline.
Gin will likely continue growing, but there are other emerging trends - for example, agave spirits are starting to become popular here in Europe and in Italy. You rode the wave of the Paloma boom with your Pink Grapefruit soda. Do you plan to ride the trend of agave spirits or new trends involving other spirits with new product releases soon?
As for the Paloma, it's very exciting to see what's happening around the world. Tequila is very trendy and bartenders really believe in this product, as it's very easy to mix. In the US the Paloma business is very large, but we also have this fantastic Fever Tree Mexican Lime Soda, which makes a perfect Ranch Water (one of the most popular cocktails in Texas, ed). It's a simple, delicious drink that's all about quality ingredients, and we hope it will reach the Italian market soon. Either way, tequila is definitely growing and will continue to become even more popular. As always, our strategy is to create tonics that pair with popular cocktails.