Premium bottled waters differentiate themselves from the mass market with a unique selling point. Growing awareness among consumers regarding premium-quality drinking water is the primary factor driving market growth. Most people are unaware that water significantly impacts everything presented on a plate or in a glass.
Ganesh Iyer, India's first certified water sommelier and managing partner, Indian Subcontinent at Zero Percent India, shared about VEEN waters and its market scenario with FoodTechBiz. Iyer's 'Water Sommelier' accreditation is a unique contribution to understanding the nuances and various properties of water. According to him, it is important to consider water and its pairing with food and cocktails. The excerpts of the conversation are as follows:
Tell us about the inception story of Veen Waters and its business model.
A conversation between friends led to the inception of VEEN in Finland in December 2006. It was born out of desire and passion. For VEEN, it's not just about water; it is about life.
The name VEEN is derived from Veen Emonen, Mother of Water, as the Finnish Epic Kalevala has it. Sailors and fishermen revere the goddess for bringing good fortune. The name is not only our way of celebrating Veen Emonen but is also suggestive of the pure environment at the heart of which VEEN's waters are found and sourced.
Since its inception, VEEN has been predominantly a HORECA (Hotels Restaurants, Cafes, and Caterers) brand for the last 7-8 years. However, looking at how the market has evolved or changed during the pandemic times, VEEN as a brand is now open to exploring retail, eCommerce route to ensure that patrons can access VEEN either within the comforts of their homes or at their neighborhood stores. For now, we cater to approximately 400 plus accounts within HoReCa in the Indian market. Our presence in the market has expanded to 38 to 40 cities across India, and we hope to take this to 60 cities by the end of this year.
How premium bottled mineral water is different from commonly available mineral water?
Premium Natural Mineral Water is attributed either on account of attractive and safe glass packaging or the lengths to which the brand has traveled to source them from the remotest part of the world. For example, VEEN is sourced at two extreme locations - Konisaajo natural spring area in the Arctic wilderness of Lapland and the Khana Bharti River in the lower foothills of the Himalayas in the district of Samtse in Bhutan and make them available on the finest culinary tables in India. On the other hand, normal mineral waters are bottled by and large in PET bottles, and at times, the source of water is suspect on account of heavy pollution in and around the source.
Apart from packaging, various factors such as hardness, TDS, pH level, vintage, and terroir play a detrimental role in the product's final value.
Does the sommeliers' claim about water and food pairing work, and how?
Every water is unique because of various factors such as the level of TDS, or pH level, vintage, hardness, terroir, and more. Based on this, the taste of the waters would differ from one another. For example, if one were to have Vichy Catalan Sparkling Water, it would pair well with a chocolate dessert on account of the water having a dominant bitter cum salty taste. Likewise, water with a low level of carbonation can be paired well with a seafood salad. Rich natural mineral water with a good amount of TDS goes well with barbeque.
To spot the difference between various natural mineral waters is an arduous task. One requires a fine sense of sight, smell, and taste that only a seasoned and practicing water sommelier can tell.
Who are your domestic and global competitors? What makes you stay ahead of the competition?
We prefer to avoid getting into the competitive analysis and instead focus on providing consumers with a good value proposition by offering natural mineral water in premium glass packaging and sourcing waters from the remotest part of the world. However, we are trying to create a niche for ourselves with VOSS and other international mineral water brands in glass bottles from packaging and market set perspective. What helps us stay ahead here in the Indian market is that we have created a mindset change in consumers in tandem with the hotel and restaurant associates. This is being done through constant education and training programs on the water category. Apart from this, our international reputation of being a decorated Finnish design, sourcing from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and bottled in premium glass packaging are some of our key USPs.
When the cost of food is a big concern for the vast population in developing countries, how do you see growth for your water brand in India?
Just as in all other consumer goods and services, so is the case with waters. There are a varied set of audiences whose needs are varied as well. We have a set of audience who is happy to drink water from the tap; there's one that is comfortable to pay Rs 18-20 for a plastic water bottle, and then there is a set of evolved consumers who have traveled the world and would not settle for anything ordinary in all aspects of their wellbeing or lifestyle. They have seen what is there on offer in the culinary tables across the world, wherein good natural mineral water in premium glass packaging is a must-have and completes their discerning dining experience. Thanks to the opening up of markets, the last set of audience is on the rise, along with the increase in disposable incomes and exposure to the health merits of drinking natural mineral water from glass bottles.
What is consumers' feedback in India, and how well is the brand growing here?
VEEN has predominantly been a B2B brand focusing on catering to the discerning need of culinary tables across the world and in the Indian subcontinent. We have established VEEN as one of the preferable natural mineral water brands owning its Finnish design, premium glass packaging, and TDS-rich natural mineral water. We have been growing at a CAGR of 32-34% year on year, and we hope the trend will continue in years to come.
In the Indian context, we haven't reached that space yet because of a lack of awareness at an elementary level understanding of water as a beverage and as a significant revenue generator in the culinary world. However, nothing is lost yet because there is quiet inquisitiveness amongst the well-heeled and well-traveled patrons about the importance of premium mineral water in the culinary tables. Hopefully, this would lead to the emergence of fine waters as a category just like it has been in the international markets.