This is a first for trunblocked.com The first time we have chosen to feature a small business that has succeeded in breaking into the TR liquor category, and in a meaningful way – one whose platform ticks a lot of important boxes. TRU’s Peter Marshall interviewed Gautom Menon, Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Wild Tiger.
Q. What prompted you to come into Travel Retail? Were there any false starts before Wild Tiger?
A. The ideating for the brand started in 2006 and we planned everything meticulously. I always knew that the packaging was going to be bold and striking – just like the wild cat itself. We envisaged something that was quintessentially Indian for travellers leaving India to take back with them and we felt that the liquor category offered us the best opportunity to do that, and within that was Indian Rum.
Before Wild Tiger I was briefly involved with a herbal liqueur my Dad introduced. But I was too young and not very much clued up. It’a always more inspiring and thrilling when it’s one’s own baby as wild Tiger is to me now. In the earlier situation it was my Dad’s and not mine. As much as I tried to make it work, it was not to be. But there were some great learnings. I don’t believe that anything is permanent failure.
Q. Can you explain the strategy that supports the brand? Do you see Wild Tiger and Brand India as being inextricably linked?
A. It’s a great time for Brand India. India and its policies have come a long way when compared to a decade ago. What we are trying to showcase is the strong sugarcane and rum-making provenance connected to India, which most consumers are actually unaware of. Mexico makes great Tequila because there are plentiful
agave plantations. India should be making great rum because we are predominantly a sugarcane country, second only to Brazil.
Our motto is simple: ”Think out of the Bottle”. What this means is that everything we do with this brand is done keeping in mind the key drivers of Innovation and Social Responsibility, which lie at the heart of the message. When we created the product we were very clear that our mission had to create a quintessentially Indian lifestyle product with strong credential and provenance. Basically, we aspired to what Guinness is to Ireland, what Corona is to Mexico and to what Jack Daniels is to America. This was what we were thinking.
To this end we felt the best combination was to produce an authentic rum – given that the origin of sugarcane was from ancient India and the fact that India remains in the top two largest sugarcane producers in the world. So, in staying true to the Indian story, we went with rum as the spirit of choice, as opposed to a vodka or a whisky, which were the two buoyant categories at the time.
And in order to capture the imagination of the traveller, we felt that no other animal of India does it like the tiger does. It’s the national animal and it’s also an endangered one. Being a huge tiger enthusiast myself, this was a no brainer.
All the packaging elements are sourced within India, specifically around the region of our distillery in Kerala, as well as in and around Coimbatore, which is where we are based. Inclusive growth of the community and businesses around us was really important in order to create a genuine ‘Made in India’ story. There were many challenges in achieving the desired quality output, but we put in a great deal of effort, training and encouragement with local vendors to get this this right.
The packaging itself is bold and innovative. It’s hard to be subtle about tiger stripes, so we went all out! Every bottle is hand packed by empowered village women. And the most distinctive aspect is that, just like every tiger, each bottle has unique tiger stripes, therefore making it a special edition by default. Even a collector’s item even, and a great gifting solution, too. This is how we tied this back to our motto of ”Think out of the Bottle” – by being innovative and distinct.
Q. Sales pitch noted! Yet you have succeeded in fast tracking this brand into the travel retail liquor sector – not easy to achieve. What do you see as the defining USP of the brand?
It’s early days, but what clearly works is the bold packaging supported by provenance and an authentic back story. Different consumers buy it for different reasons. Some relate it to wildlife, some are just curious rum consumers, some want to support a brand that, in turn, supports a noble cause (We’ll get to that. PM .) But the main USP is how we have seamlessly tied in packaging, provenance and social responsibility.
Q. So, three in one! What, then, are the future plans for the brand?
As you know, we recently launched the Spiced variant, which is actually Asia’s first spiced rum,
only using authentic spices associated with India,
and the response from Europe has been fantastic.
Next year we plan to launch a White Rum to complete the Wild Tiger family. After that our focus will move to creating triple packs with tremendous added value. At this stage our primary focus is the Off Trade, given our distinctive and bold packaging and story.
We are working on an ambitious project to introduce a Pure cane, juice-based, agricole-style rum. With this variant it will be an Over Proof, targeting primarily the On Trade and bartenders who can 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
, that’s capable of making exquisite rum products.
Currently we are also working on another unique product offering which is aimed at luring consumers into the Rum category in a fun, educative and engaging way like never before. Won’t divulge too much now, but it will be ready to ‘roar’ in the new year for the global Travel Retail industry. We believe it’s going to give the rum category and gifting of spirits in the W & S category the impetus that it much deserves.
Q. So how many cases have you shipped in the past year. Given the demand for Wild Tiger, might you experience capacity problems?
A. We have just crossed over 100,000 units since launch in February 2016. Of this, nearly 60% is in Travel Retail. There is no question of capacity problems as we own the distillery and have a capacity of 300,000 cases a month at full steam. Currently we are only using half the capacity and are mainly engaged in contract bottling. So, if the time comes when Wild Tiger grows exponentially, then we can always reduce the contract bottling accounts and focus on our in-house brands.
Q. You recently set up a conservation programme in India – the Wild Tiger Foundation. How important is this to you?
The tiger is an animal that caught my imagination and has mesmerised me since I was a toddler. That is why one of the main reasons of going with the tiger imagery in building this brand. Despite being the national animal of India, we have literally watched it slip into extinction. From having 100,000 tigers a century ago, the number now stands at just 2,200 today. It’s a shameful statistic and we are committed to raising awareness and funds to save the tiger and its habitat. It’s our innate feeling that if any company or brand is using the image of an endangered species, then the very least we can do is give back and support a very important and great cause.
Our seriousness about this can be attributed to the fact that we have registered and established our own non-profit organisation called WTF (Wild Tiger Foundation), where 10% of profits from our liquor sales will go into this conservation initiative. We are not wildlife experts, just real enthusiasts, so we call upon the best tiger experts in the country to mentor us and ensure the funds are spent on areas and avenues that require most attention. We have adopted two tiger reserves in Southern India and hope to make a difference to this landscape. We have also recently donated torches, water coolers and backpacks to forest guards and anti-poaching watchers in one of the tiger reserves in South India, who are the real heroes of wildlife conservation.
It’s still very early days for the Foundation. Apart from the proceeds from liquor sales, we also plan to generate funds from gala dinners, auctioning time with celebs and through the sale of quirky merchandise. Why not? It’s a great little team of like-minded wildlife enthusiasts who are entrepreneur buddies of mine.
Q. Finally, if there is one thing you want to achieve over the next 12 months, what would it be?
We want to be the brand and company to lead the charge when it comes to increasing the share of voice and shelf space for the Rum category. We have no doubt that Premium Rum has the potential to be the next Single Malt of the Travel Retail world. Rum is a very diverse and flavourful spirit. In my opinion it is the most exciting three letter word! And ”Rhumtastic” is my favourite hyperbole.
Peter Marshall: “Wild Tiger’s roar is getting louder. Watch this space”