Turning hobby into business: How this entrepreneur created India’s first cider brand
It all began in 2014 in Somerville, Massachusetts when Siddharth Sheth was living alone and was in need of a hobby, he found a calling with everything, food and drink. “I spent the weekends frequenting bars and taprooms in and around Boston, Cambridge & Somerville. As luck would have it, I started trying the ciders on tap and fell in love with them,” shared Sheth by adding that one of the very first ciders that caught his taste buds and fell in love with the notes was the one that gave birth to everything we see here today. That cider was Bantam’s Wunderkind. “Soon after, I sent a handwritten note to the founders at Bantam Cider, requesting them to accompany me in the mission to bring all-natural, craft apple ciders to India,” he added who wish to stick with the ethos that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Excerpts from the interview:
Why Thirsty Fox?
When it came to choosing a name for our ciders, I went with Thirsty Fox. I drew inspiration from foxes, who have an uncanny ability to seek out and steal the best apples from orchards. And that's how only the best and hand-picked apples are sourced from family-owned farms in America for our award-winning Ciders. The cider category is non-existent in India. As leaders of the category, we aspire to grow the category to rival someday that of ciders in other markets such as the US and UK.
What legality you went through as you were the only fruit-based cider manufacturer in India?
When we launched ciders in India in late 2019, the category of fruit-based wines did not exist. We had to work with the Excise department in Nashik and Mumbai to help define the class of fruit wines made from fruits other than grapes. Today, that persistence has paid off, and a fruit wine category is included in the taxation scheme in Maharashtra.
You launched the brand in Nov 2019, and soon the pandemic hit the world. How have you marketed yourself during such a situation?
Our initial plans were to do many on-ground activation and introduce the brand through bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, with the onset of the pandemic, bars and restaurants were the first to be affected. The pandemic has forced us to pivot to primarily selling through wine shops across the city. To reach our consumers, we are investing in digital and social media marketing. We are also actively engaged in collaborations and partnerships with restaurants that are focusing on home deliveries.
What’s your presence? Do you also supply to restaurants?
Currently, we are available across select retail outlets across Mumbai, such as Foodhall, Santa Cruz; Haiko Supermarket, Powai; Living Liquidz, Hops Cork, Bandra and others. We are also at Dorabjee’s in Pune. We had just started our HoReCa footprint when the pandemic struck and led to a complete lockdown.
We see lots of innovation being done on the craft side- be it fresh brews, natural products or local ingredients. Why so? How does the market look like?
Driving the resurgence of small scale craft products is an evolving desire to consume consciously. Consumers are looking for brands that they can relate to, admire and feel a sense of shared purpose. Driving the trend is the inherent human tendency to do good which now manifests in the sustainability movement.
Also, with evolving tastes, today’s consumer seeks choice and variety in everything they consume. It so happens that some of the more prominent brands have been slow to respond to the changing consumer preferences which we are seeing evolves at a rapid rate in India.
Where are these ciders produced? From where do you source the ingredients?
We manufacture our ciders at our facility in the winemaking region of Nashik, Maharashtra, at a production capacity of 1.2 L cases per annum. Our manufacturing process emphasizes using all-natural ingredients, fermenting at low temperatures, and ensuring strict hygiene and sanitation conditions. Our method of making ciders follows the traditional, small-batch cider-making process.
We import some of our ingredients from the US and Europe, while India is where we source our spices.
What is the shelf life of these ciders? How have you priced them?
Our ciders are shelf-stable for at least a year if stored in a dark, cool place. Our ciders, like any natural product, taste freshest when consumed as quickly as possible. We have three all-natural, award-winning ciders in our portfolio; they are Izzy, Reed and Kipp. Each one is unique in terms of its aroma and flavour profile. Thirsty Fox Izzy is a golden summery cider delicately balanced with a hint of citrus honey to create an easy-drinking and gluten-free cider. It has an alcohol content of 6% ABV. Thirsty Fox Reed is a beautiful ruby red cider conditioned with cherries and peppercorns to create a unique semi-dry cider. Reed is gluten-free, vegan and has an alcohol content of 5.4% ABV. Izzy and Reed are priced at Rs 300 for a pint of 330ml.
Thirsty Fox Kipp is a juicy, unfiltered cider with a bitter-sweet complexity. The freshest batch of hand-picked apples is slowly fermented with a proprietary blend of hops and blended with cold-pressed apple juice. The result is a cloudy, fruit-forward cider with heady tropical aromas and a lingering finish. Kipp is gluten-free, vegan, and has an alcohol content of 5.5% ABV. Kipp is priced at Rs 350 for a pint of 330ml.
High on expansion
We want to become known as the craft cider brand in India. And so our aspirations are hopefully by the end of this year or early next year to make inroads into some of the other markets, primarily the metros—including Bengaluru and Delhi. But we also think that there is an excellent opportunity for travelers coming into Goa to experience the product.
We are also looking at expanding beyond the shores of India, starting with the US and UK, then Western Europe and East and Southeast Asia. As the market for ciders is still at a nascent stage in India, we are looking at an international footprint to keep generating business with revenues and distribution channels.
Who do you see as your target customer?
Our target consumers are both men, women who are early-mid career. They are also fiercely independent, affluent, and socially versatile. A well-travelled consumer is also one who is curious and is an avid back label reader. We do well with a consumer who is seeking out new experiences. We design our ciders to cater to the palate of both novice drinkers as well as to connoisseurs.
Top beverages trend
We are starting to see a few trends shaping the Indian market. The first and largest one is the continued premiumisation of the market. Consumers today are more than willing to pay a premium for a good quality product and a brand that delivers value. The other big trend is that of no-low alcoholic beverages, with consumers opting for products containing no alcohol or very low quantities of alcohol by volume. This trend is driven by a desire to moderate consumption and lifestyle choices that more consumers are making.