Fever-Tree is one of those businesses that has achieved an incredible amount in a very short time, going from launching in 2005, to now being available in over 80 countries and overtaking some huge brands over the course of that journey.
It’s a journey that really began with Tim Warrilow being introduced to Charles Rolls in the UK and the pair arranging to go for a coffee and a chat. Charles had become known as the man who had brought premium UK gin brand Plymouth Gin back to life, and Tim had been researching the gin category.
At a recent industry event in Sydney, Tim revealed just how things changed when the pair met.
“I called Charles and that resulted in us meeting for a cup of coffee and interestingly over that first coffee, the conversation turned from gin to tonic,” Tim said.
“This is because I had been doing my research and had ventured into the world of tonic and thought there was a fantastic opportunity there. Interestingly that opportunity had also occurred to Charles, when he was running Plymouth Gin.
“So it really did turn out to be the most fortuitous of cups of coffee, because we appeared to be the only two people, seemingly in the world, who had this same thought and idea.”
It is quite one thing to have the idea, but at a time when the mixer category was dominated by one label, how does the idea become a reality?
“It was interesting because as Charles and I were talking about tonic, we were seeing the same thing in how the spirits landscape was changing and how premium spirits were starting to be talked about. The spirit companies were really trying to focus their time and attention on really trying to push and market the premium end of their portfolios.
“Consumers were starting to be seduced by the world of distillation and provenance and ingredients all around the world of spirits. Also at the same time the whole bartending scene was really starting to develop; mixologists were starting to make a name for themselves and be talked about and were driving really interesting cocktails.”
Tim explained that this was the crux of what he and Charles had talked about over that first coffee, that this was happening, there was no doubt it was going to continue and the mixer category, the very thing that these drinks are made with was being overlooked. So Tim started to look, firstly at what makes, what is great tonic.
“What this involved was actually going back into the history books and researching what makes a great tonic? What were the original ingredients in tonic and that was a large part of what we were doing. Then we took the decision, rightly or wrongly, to approach the development of these products in a completely different way.
“The way the soft drinks industry develops their products, which would be to call up a flavour house, tell them the price they were willing to pay and they would then receive some samples. We thought we would go out and find these ingredients. We had done the research and now we were going to go out around the world and hunt and search for these ingredients ourselves.”
Unfortunately, the best ingredients are not always in the best places, with Tim’s research had led him to discover there was one last remaining plantation of the highest quality quinine, called the fever tree, which he described as being “in just about the most lawless and remote part of the world, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Tim then embarked on a journey through the DRC with a taxi driver navigating roadblocks which developed from a plank of wood with six-inch nails, to armed people on the side of the road and then a young man walking into the road with a rocket launcher.
He said: “This was one of the most memorable of my ingredient journeys, but it was also quite sad because the area is so lawless and devastated, but I just came back with an enormous amount of admiration for these people running this plantation in these unbelievable conditions.”
BARTENDERS AND CHEFS
Tim has many stories about how his research has taken him to strange and unexpected places in search of the best products that they need for Fever-Tree, but with the product developed, there was then the challenge of getting people to buy and at this point they didn’t have a huge sales force to take it on the road.
“Once again,” Tim explained, “we wanted to try and do things a different way to the big soft drink guys, so we went about it with a small group of us and just went restaurants and bar after. The best quality ones, telling them about our product and ingredients and doing side-by-side taste tests and really getting them to understand the importance of this product and how it can help elevate their and interest and excite their customers.
“It was a long, painstaking process, but we had a few good breaks along the way, Jamie Oliver got interested and engaged very early on, but one of the significant breaks came when, unbeknownst to us a bottle of Fever-Tree found its way to Spain and a gentleman called Ferran Adrià who at the time was the world’s most famous and revered chef because he had this extraordinary restaurant: El Bulli.
“He invited us out to his restaurant and explain that why he was keen for us to come was because finally someone is taking tonic seriously.
“But why I am so grateful to Ferran is this whole gin and tonic renaissance that we have all been enjoying really had its [birth] with Ferran and his fellow chefs. As he said when they discovered Fever-Tree and then other gins coming on to the market, they were the ones who put it into the big balloon glass and created the celebration of serving and drinking a gin and tonic after service and, as they do in Spain, after a meal. And with that endorsement of our product and with that drink it really did help jettison the gin and tonic category to a new height.”
It is easy to see from there why the ‘If ¾ of your drink is the mixer, mix with the best’ is such a striking and apt line for Fever-Tree. With Fever-Tree now setting up on its own in Australia, with its own sales force and production facility the mixer looks set to scale even higher heights, and there are definitely more exciting products coming, in particular cocktail mixers and Bars and Clubs will bring you all the details as they are revealed.