What do rum and tigers have in common? Nothing apparently — although that hasn't stopped entrepreneur Gautom Menon from creating a bond between the two — and nurturing both in an inimitable manner.
Gautom, who was recently recognised by GQ magazine as one of India's top 50 most influential young Indians, had for long, nurtured a dream to build a premium brand based on India’s centuries-old legacy of producing sugar cane that has made it the largest producer and consumer of rum in the world.
Drawing strength from his family’s base in the liquor manufacturing sector, Gautom conceptualised “Wild Tiger” to be a premium rum brand a decade ago but decided to go with all guns blazing since the start of 2015. The brand was eventually launched in February 2016 — that too, against daunting odds which involved taking the state government to court over unrealistic labeling regulations that were counterproductive to liquor destined for export markets. According to Gautom what was lacking was the fact that despite such a rich legacy of rum production, Indian rum could not achieve cult status like that of Mexican Tequila or Brazilian Cachaca.
Wild Tiger rum is India's and Asia's first premium rum manufactured in Kerala for export only. Within a short time, Wild Tiger is roaring its way to success. It is already available in 18 countries and enjoys numerous listings on land, air and sea, in Duty Free outlets across the world. It is soon being introduced on board British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and also in far away countries such as Uruguay, St. Maarten, Barbados, Antigua and Egypt, to name a few.
Spirit of India with a twist
Giving us a low-down on the delicious liquid, Gautom says traditional Indian rum is usually just 100 percent molasses based. Wild Tiger predominately has the same base but it is also blended with some percentage of cane juice spirit, which gives the final blend a dash of aroma and a depth in flavour.
By choosing a winning name like Wild Tiger, Gautom wanted to emphasise his love for India’s national animal. The Wild Tiger rum brand is not only unique since each of its handcrafted bottles bear unique tiger stripes just like every Tiger, but also because the idea and the cause that it supports make it that much more special.
How Wild Tiger earns its stripes
The brand donates 10 percent of profits towards tiger conservation as a part of its core CSR policy by way of the non-profit Wild Tiger Foundation, conceptualised and founded by Gautom Menon, and supported by his childhood friend Suprej Venkat. This foundation works with other established wildlife establishments and prominent tiger experts to save the tiger and its habitat in Southern India.
Gautom is working on another non-profit plan to soon launch an urban clothing line under the WTF name, organise auctions and gala dinners to scale up the profile of the organisation and raise funds for tiger conservation.
"The idea behind our conservation initiative stems from the fact that the tiger is India's national animal and it’s in grave danger of extinction," says Gautom. He says conservation needs special attention from companies and brands that use the animal's imagery. The non-profit recently donated torches, back packs and water coolers to anti-poaching watchers at a tiger reserve in South India to mark International Tiger Day.
“This activity only marks the beginning and we intend to work more closely with Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve and Waynad Wildlife sanctuary to ensure that this majestic creature is saved from extinction. And yes, we would like to see this happen during our lifetime," adds the founder.
The road ahead
Gautom believes in 'thinking out of the bottle' in whatever he does. “We just recently launched a spiced rum variant which is Asia's first and the response in Europe has been heartening, especially in France and the Czech Republic. Next year, we plan to launch a White Coconut Rum to complete the Tiger family, and then our focus will shift to creating triple packs and other gift packs which offer tremendous value for consumers and retailers,” he shares.
“At this stage, our primary focus is ‘off trade’ given our distinctive, bold packaging and story. We are working on an ambitious project to introduce a pure cane juice based Agricole-style rum too. This variant will be an ‘over proof’ and will primarily target ‘on trade’ scene and aid bartenders who to create exotic cocktails with this type of flavour profile. This also gives us a unique opportunity to showcase India as a great sugarcane-producing nation,” says Gautom.
Success has not come easy to Gautom. He had to go through many trials and tribulations, fight many pitched battles with regulatory agencies before his brand saw the light of day. “The Indian market is very tricky, especially for premium brands. The sector is over-regulated, with many state governments threatening to impose prohibition. It's a big gamble to try and build a premium brand in such a volatile market, and diverting resources at this stage is not viable,” he proffers.
Wild Tiger is a premium rum and would cost close to Rs 1,800 a bottle in Karnataka if and when launched. He feels Indians will take a little more time to start appreciating premium rums, since even now most tipplers still seem caught up with the romance of whisky, thanks to our colonial past and western aspirations.
Moreover, rum has long been imprinted in Indian minds with iconic value brands like Contessa, Old Monk and Hercules. These have been around for decades and are easily available from military canteens. Gautom realises that it's a drink for all seasons but knows it will take a lot of education and big rum brands to together change the mindset that rum is not just a party drink to be mixed with cola on cold evenings.
“When you look at the international imagery of rum, it always entails the sun, sun-kissed beaches and refreshing ‘summery’ cocktails. We believe India and China will wake up to authentic and premium rums in the next decade or so,” hopes Gautom.
Plans for India
The Wild Tiger Rum founder has set an ambitious goal of first being available in 45 countries worldwide and to be listed with 15 of the top 30 Duty Free Operators worldwide before selling the brand in India. “Once we have achieved those objectives which we hope would be in the next financial year, we shall look at India in a serious way. We have received significant interest from a couple of leading pan-India distribution agencies who are keen to represent us, but we are keeping the conversation healthy and active at this stage. We should be able to make an announcement next year. It is very heartening to see millennial Indians waking up to craft beers and hope this will lead to our home country's indigenous spirits too,” says Gautom.
Wild Tiger is working on a unique product offering in order to lure consumers to the rum category in a fun, educative and engaging way like never before. Gautom refuses to divulge too much, but reveals it will be ready to roar in the new year and announce its presence in global markets. “It's imperative to put the category ahead of our own offering in order for greater growth prospects,”he says.
Updated Date: Aug 28, 2017 16:17 PM