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COMING OF AGE – FEVER-TREE AND THE INTERNATIONAL PREMIUM FILLER MARKET

Everyone starting their own business dreams of creating an all new product category in its own right. Fever-Tree, the London-based premium filler company, it can be argued, have done just that. MIXOLOGY ONLINE sat down with Co-founder & CEO Tim Warrillow and international director John Moreira to discuss the status quo of the longdrink market, new trends and their very own plans for the future.

It’s hard to underestimate the way the rise of the premium filler category has altered the way people enjoy their drinks, at the bar and even at home. Fever-Tree are of course the pioneers at the heart this development. When Tim Warrillow and Charles Rolls started their company over a decade ago in 2005, there simply were no filler options available on the market specifically geared towards highlighting the flavours and character of the particular spirit they were mixed with. And the lack of premium fillers to match up with exciting spirits new and old became even more apparent since the premium spirits industry was continuing to diversify.

The drink that presented the most obvious frustration for the two entrepreneurs at the time, of course, was the Gin & Tonic. From delving into dangerous territories of the Congo in search of the best quinine, to locating the ideal sources of spring water back home in England, no stone was left unturned to create the first naturally sourced tonic water filler. Every year since then, Fever Tree has at least launched one new product, including novel tonic varieties, and both ginger beer and ginger ale.

While professionals and cocktail lovers have been familiar with premium mixers for quite some time now, it’s only in the last couple of years, that the category has really seen wider consumer recognition. More and more bars and restaurants offer a selection of high quality fillers, and supermarkets have started marketing mixers alongside their spirits selection.

At Fever-Tree, the numbers support this general observation. With 71% in 2015, annual growth more than doubled on the previous year. The brand is available in over 50 countries worldwide and plans to advance into further markets in the coming years.

COMING OF AGE

“It’s a very exciting time for us”, co-founder and CEO Tim Warrillow says. “Fever Tree is growing with an enormous pace, across continents and across all the products of the range. More importantly, though, we’re seeing that the whole premium filler category has really started to catch the imagination of the consumer. We very much believe that is a category still in its infancy.” In the beginning, the main driver of business as well as consumer interest had been the Gin & Tonic and the new options Fever Tree mixers had created for enjoying this particular drink. Now, other spirit categories are starting to gain consumer relevance.

Fever-Tree’s international director John Moreira puts this down to what he calls “simple mixability.” He sees retail as well as on-trade operators benefitting. “Bartenders can now use the help of a mixer to introduce categories to their guests that they themselves love.” Guests, in turn, are more open to new suggestions if they come in the company of something already familiar.

Tim Warrillow sees a current infatuation with the long drink as part of a more general, even deliberate development in the spirits market. While the premium spirits category is of course growing and growing throughout the world, spirits producers are realizing that people drinking short, neat spirits, are – as Warrillow puts it – “in some cases quite literally dying off”. The long drink has proven to be the ideal catalyst in attracting the so-called “millennial consumer”, namely the younger generation, into the premium category. “That‘s why the producers are looking across their ranges to ensure they’ve got a good and well-understood long drink serve that really helps present their product in the best light.”

ONE FITS ALL

As the first and biggest premium mixer company Fever-Tree occupies the prime spot in the new setup. And today, they’re in a more comfortable position than ever. Creating the flavour profile of their flagship Indian Tonic, which could help not just a few, but all varieties of gin to shine had been a core principle since the beginning and, in fact, the very motivation for starting the business in the first place. Now, with a complete range of classic mixer variants under their belt, Fever Tree’s options for co-promotion literally seem endless. Spirits producers across categories are at least as keen to work with Fever-Tree, as they themselves are in marrying their fillers with great spirits. “We are having ‘interesting conversations’ (and this is as detailed as Warrillow is going to get at this stage) with whiskey companies, tequila companies, and aperitif-based companies, for example.”

When it comes to assessing tendencies and trends in long drink consumption, Warrillow and Moreira are less hesitant to spill the beans. Which other drink could maybe at least catch up with the omnipresent G&T in the near future? Aperitif-type spirits like vermouth or port seem to lend themselves particularly well for new tonic variations, Moreira says. On a recent trip to Portugal, he had seen lots of bars offering white port and tonic long drinks. In the US, ginger beer has really taken off in recent years. Much like in Germany, it’s not a traditional beverage in the States, but was introduced to US-consumers by way of the cocktail trade. Ginger beer is Fever Tree’s biggest product line in the US. The Dark & Stormy is a popular drink, as is the Moscow Mule. But also more unusual variations like ginger beer and tequila are attracting interest.

SOME LIKE IT LIGHT

Low calorie fillers are the most recent trend Fever-Tree have stimulated themselves. Before developing their Naturally Light Tonic, which launched in Germany in 2015 and had entered the UK market 7 years prior in 2008, they had undertaken focus group research specifically geared towards dietary preferences. It concluded that customers were not satisfied with the quality of light offerings on the market, but still chose these products due to their low calorie content. The Naturally Light is sweetened with fruit sugar instead of cane sugar, which helps reduce calories by 58%. A “Naturally Light” ginger beer has been released in the UK and Fever Tree plan to develop the light sub-range across their product line.

Call it foresight, experience, or even personal preference: Fever-Tree mixers were formed with the core principle of independence from spirits flavor trends. Aside from its first mover advantage it’s this broad appeal, this “simple mixablity” over categories and regional tastes that is likely to carry the company from infancy to adolescence.

Credits

Foto: Photo via Fever Tree.

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