Salud Beverages has been the talk of the town for a few months now. The Gin and Tonic brand that means “Celebration Of Life,” was launched post-Covid and is the first ready-to-drink G&T brand in India. An investment banker turned beverage entrepreneur Ajay Shetty, who founded Myra Vineyards, has now set foot into the Gin and Tonic industry with Salud, which also has Telugu superstar Rana Daggubati as an investor. I got to talk to Ajay about Salud, and below are the excerpts.
What was the idea behind setting up Salud Beverages?
I started with the idea of creating a global lifestyle brand. I’ve been in this industry for a while now and noticed a gap and opportunity in the alcobev market. Specifically, the ready-to-drink segment. This ultimately led to the idea of Salud being born with India’s first RTD Gin and Tonic. I worked with my team to conceptualize the product and eventually landed on an urban lifestyle brand idea. The heart of the brand is creating a change in the way people party with Life 2.0. G&T 2.0, with its easy-to-drink carefree nature, will be the flagship.
What exactly is the market size for Gin in India?
There has definitely been an explosion of Gin’s demand and consumption in general, and thus the need for a product like this exists. It’s also, in a way creating its own market. The idea is to change the way people perceive the beverage and make it an easy-to-drink option for anybody and everybody. To change the way one unwinds regularly.
How did you study consumer behavior and their interest in Gin products?
Being in the industry for a while and studying the consumer needs through time, we noticed a steadily growing popularity and a need for this niche in the market. A niche Salud can now fill.
How do you plan to reach out to the target audience with G&T 2.0?
Given the current generation and times, social media is definitely the way to reach out and engage with our core market. So digital is our go-to medium. We want Salud to be the new way to chill and set up a whole new lifestyle of unwinding and relaxing, starting with a refreshing drink, of course! But it goes further than that. Like the recently launched Salud Merchandise and Salud Sessions, our ancillaries add to our platform of Life 2.0, bringing people together to celebrate life the Salud way.
Could you tell me about the current Gin & Tonic landscape?
The Gin-aissance, as we like to call it, I think started when the brand Sipsmith won a case in 2009 against the Revenue and measures department – HMRC in the UK. The result was distilleries were allowed to produce small batches of gin, which led to a massive jump in the production, which then further led to the onset of the tonics being produced because they’re the perfect pair, of course. Gin and Tonic soon became a global trend, gaining popularity and a massive boost in consumption. Given the tropical climate here, it didn’t take long for this refreshing drink to catch India. It’s easy to consume, fresh, clean, and easily available. Consumers have also become a lot more aware, socially responsible, and health-conscious, so a drink that is low in calories allows them to indulge guilt-free.
With the pandemic changing many things, including how people party and consume beverages, how has it impacted the overall business?
There has definitely been a learning curve, as the world has changed in the pandemic. Of course, the main challenge was building a brand through Covid, considering how the supply chain in the alcobev industry changed drastically in the last few months. We constantly reworked the business prototypes to ensure there were no roadblocks in our path. Our story, however, has just begun, and we, as a team, having done this already with the launch and sale of the previous brand, are confident and well equipped to handle this and change the game. As a brand, we are less of a “party” beverage and more of a “celebrating life” beverage. It is a way of unwinding at home with some peaceful me-time or even enjoying a virtual drink with friends and family! So, it’s not about partying; it’s more about bonding and forming meaningful social connections, which has gained huge importance in the last year.
How did you get Rana Daggubati to fund Salud?
It was a very strategic decision. Anthill Ventures is the lead VC that has helped us raise money in the market and help grow. Urban I is our speed scaling partner for Salud Beverages, and Rana has been an active, heavily involved participant. We were looking for a team that would help us grow globally and sell the lifestyle experience we give, and have the ability to help scale up. We saw Rana – along with Prasad Vanga (CEO of Anthill Ventures) – as a great fit. And for them, we were the exact brand they were looking for to help build their idea of an urban lifestyle brand, and the synergies just matched. It was a very instinctive integration between the 2 visions. So we are thrilled to have him as an active investor and an advisor on board.
Do you plan to add more flavors to the brand?
We plan to introduce more flavors and expand the portfolio to more products with the same vibe in time.
You were a wine entrepreneur and now a gin entrepreneur. What are the differences you have been noticing?
I wouldn’t call myself a gin entrepreneur, more a Beverage Entrepreneur or an Urban Lifestyle Entrepreneur. There are similarities, yes, but the differences are also stark, and I’ve definitely had to learn things on the way. The wine segment is still considered a niche market. In contrast, the plan for Salud Beverages is to make an Urban Lifestyle brand selling experiences, which would include a portfolio mix of Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic beverages alongside other lifestyle experiences. So we’re targeting more of a superset market than the wine market, which was relatively specific.
There are already a few well-known gin brands in India. How do you plan to overtake them?
We don’t consider ourselves a gin brand, so we are not competing with other Gin brands. As G&T 2.0 is premixed RTD, it’s a more mass market. The brand happens to be gin-based, but we’re not just targeting gin drinkers. Our audience is anyone looking for an uncomplicated, refreshing way to chill. The ultimate goal is to build a whole new category in this space – giving people more ways to celebrate with that Life 2.0 essence.