Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Cocktails sans bartenders

Founded by an experienced alcobev hand &Stirred offers DIY cocktail mixes for novices at a pocket friendly price.

Cocktails have always been a bartender's craft and have traditionally been served at the bar counter by a professional. However, there's one brand which is trying to introduce cocktails inside Indian homes while also simplifying it down to a cut-pour-stir format. &Stirred, the brand offers cocktail mixes in pouches. The ready to mix liquid (much like fruit syrups) is to be had with unflavoured white spirits like vodka, white rum and tequila. The variants on offer include popular mixes like Bloody Mary, Cosmopolitan, Kamikaze shots, Margarita, Mojito and Pina Colada. Priced at Rs 50 per pouch, each pack is adequate for 60 ml servings.

It was around 2015 that &Stirred's founder Rakesh Sheth realised a need gap in the Indian alcobev industry. While Indians loved mixed drinks and cocktails, there were certain reasons that held them back from consuming them often. Firstly, when it came to drinking white spirits outside bar setups, mix options were limited to tetra pack juices or soft drinks like Sprite, Limca or Coke. Secondly, consumers didn't have the skills, time or the ingredients. And then, there was the price factor - cocktails in India are usually priced twice or three times the cost of a pint of beer (upwards of Rs 250).

Rakesh Sheth
Rakesh Sheth

Sheth spent around a year and a half in research, finalising recipes, manufacturing and supply before launching the brand in 2017. The Gurgaon based start-up is now run by 18 employees (mostly in sales and marketing). While &Stirred was started by Sheth and his wife, the duo recently on-boarded a Mumbai based HNI as an investor. The brand is also launching mocktails and the plan is to break even in the next six months.

Before taking up his entrepreneurial role, Sheth spent close to 15 years in the alcobev industry working with companies like Foster's, LVMH, Diageo and Pernod Ricard. He reveals that the vodka category (which is key to &Stirred's sales) couldn't make much progress in India, despite the country being fertile ground for it. "Despite being a tropical country and having a huge youth population which is absolutely favourable for a vodka business, it's a de-growing category. It is a neutral spirit and is usually consumed in the form of mixes," Sheth says.

Cocktails sans bartenders

He explains that the current state of the category is because the industry has never romanticised the experience of drinking vodka. "In India, whiskey started off as Scotch and we had our share of excitement when the likes of Jack Daniels came in, then came single malts followed by Irish whiskeys like Bushmills and Jameson. The whiskey journey had an adventure of its own. Similarly, beer also had its own share of excitement with craft beers, etc.," Sheth says.

He reveals that the overall vodka category has stagnated at a volume of around six million nine-litre-cases (12x750 ml bottles per case) in the last couple of years while a mass whiskey brand like Imperial Blue sold over 20 million cases in 2018 alone. "Smirnoff's volume today is almost the same as what it was in 2008 (around eight lakh cases). Magic Moments (which has a lower price range) grew around five to six per cent on the back of new flavours and not on category expansion," he points out.

Reports suggest that 70 per cent of the Indian alcobev market (which had a volume of 361 million cases in 2018-19) is dominated by whiskeys while vodka occupies a single digit share.

Sheth states that without a similar product or a close competitor in the market, the goal now is to fill up the gap and generate more trials. The challenge is to create awareness and get more people to experience the product for the first time. The key target area is at-home consumption, followed by social gatherings like banquets, etc.

"We've always had quick success when someone gets to know about the brand."
Rakesh Sheth

"We've always had quick success when someone gets to know about the brand. Our effort has been to host events and do small pop-ups in corporate pantries, and try digital marketing. The curiosity factor for the brand is pretty high. Most of what we do is experiential-led, low cost with high engagement. Being a start-up, we cannot do high decibel campaigns like the Daburs and Unilevers," he says.

The brand sells through online channels (20 per cent of overall sales) like Amazon, Flipkart and Bigbasket, alongside its own website. &Stirred has already partnered with Indigo airlines and defence canteens, and is also looking at B2B partnerships with hotel chains.