Co-founder Tim Warrillow on raising export spirits
It’s served in seven of the world’s top 10 restaurants, sold in 38 countries and is expecting a £22m turnover this year. Fever-Tree, the upmarket Tonic Water and mixer brand, is that quintessential Made in Britain product, we should all toast to.
Founded in 2004 by Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow, the Chelsea company gets 75% of its turnover from overseas.
Manufactured in Somerset, the brand offers seven different flavours including lemon tonic, Mediterranean tonic water, ginger ale and Sicilian lemonade.
This year has been great for the business. Back in March, LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group, invested £48m in the company. Then in April it won the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise and in June it was named “Exporter of the Year” at the Grocer Gold Awards.
Fever-Tree’s next big plan is to grow its American exports and break Asian markets. How will it do it? We speak to co-founder Tim Warrillow:
Q. How did come up with the idea of launching Fever-Tree?
Fever-Tree is a joint effort by me and Charles Rolls. We come from very different backgrounds with Charles’ background arguably being much more relevant as he did a fantastic job with revitalising Plymouth Gin, one of Britain’s oldest distillers. My background is in advertising and marketing and I’ve been working with real interest on the premium gin sector.
When I spoke to people in the industry about the sector, everyone talked about Charles. But when I met him, our conversation changed from premium gin to tonic. We both saw how the premium spirits industry had been growing for the last 15-20 years as people became more aware about spirits.
Yet in stark contrast, the mixer category was the preserve of one global brand which frankly, didn’t offer a lot of choice to customers.
Therefore, the unofficial tagline of the business became “Did you know three quarters of your gin in a gin and tonic is tonic.” We saw how the market didn’t really have good-quality mixers so we made it our mission to provide amazing mixers to the industry.
Q. Why did you decide to call the business Fever-Tree?
We went back to the history of tonic to search the very best ingredients that led us to Quinine, which is the extract from that bark of the fever-tree. It’s anti-malarial and the British army used it to ward off malaria in 1820 [after an epidemic broke out.] To make it palatable, they added water and sugar and tonic water was born.
The interesting thing is that this tonic water was made even more palatable by adding gin to it. And that’s how Britain got gin and tonic, it’s the quintessential drink. Now because Fever-Tree was the root of gin and tonic, we thought it would make a great name.
Q. How did you fund the business?
We bootstrapped the business with some personal investment and money from angel investors. But from very early we had private investors as the business grew very quickly.
Q. How did you spread the word?
Early on in the business, we got a bit of good press and had Waitrose calling us. We all know how retailers never call you so the call was a very pleasant surprise. They said that they had been waiting for a product like ours for five years and were very keen to get it on their shelves.
At the same time we were working very hard to get the product into restaurants and went from one to another, talking about the product.
Our second bit of good fortune was that the late British artist Richard Hamilton spotted Fever-Tree in Waitrose and liked it so much that he gave it to his friend Ferran Adria, owner of EI Bulli – which was voted as the best restaurant in the world for five years running. Ferran liked it so much that he made it into a dish and called it ‘Soupa de Fever- Tree tonica’.
That gave us a wonderful export outlet to the world.
Q. Was exporting always a core business strategy for you?
We always wanted Fever-Tree to be an international business and we were well aware that gin and tonic is loved all around the world. When exporting to Spain took on its momentum, we started looking at other markets to crack like the US.
Q. How did you crack other countries?
We are in 38 different markets and are making really good progress in all of them. America is a very important market. With hotels, bars and restaurants increasingly putting cocktails on the menu, we spend a lot time talking to the bartending community about what people like to drink. This research is vital to identify markets to enter.
Press coverage also helped to spread the word for us. We now have people calling from places like Vietnam where they are running hotel chains and want our product.
Also, people across the globe love British brands and that also helped us to build an international reputation.
Q. What were the main challenges to export?
The food and drinks industry is regulated and you have to make sure you comply with those set standards. Outside of that, it is really just about immersing yourself in that market in order to find the right partner. For that, you need to invest a lot of time and effort in meeting the right people, going to trade shows and getting recommendations.
Q. What are your future plans?
We want to broaden our product range and export to more countries. At the moment, 75% of our turnover is from exports. We are looking at ways to enter Asia and develop our businesses in Australia and America.
Thanks for you time Tim!
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