Lockdown launches: Unlike reviving an existing operation, launching new brand is much tougher

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July 12, 2020 6:15 AM

Unlike reviving an existing long-standing operation, launching a new brand in these times is much tougher

Terai India Dry Gin.

There is something to be said about the indomitable human spirit that shines brightest under pressure. This pretty much sums up my recent interaction with Shekhar Swarup, the founder of Terai India Dry Gin, a brand launched during the pandemic. “Work on the brand had been on for over two years, but with this lockdown, all work stopped… it was as if time stopped,” he said.

Dramatic as those words are, it’s a truth that rang through the corridors of entrepreneurial India as we all woke up to the first of many months of no revenues and looming expenses. Swarup, the scion of the generations-old Globus Spirits, didn’t want to wait for a vaccine, or a miracle. April restored some sense of normalcy in the family business and that gave him the required impetus to move ahead with the launch. Although it shares space with the larger distillery in Rajasthan, Terai is a premium craft gin made using the traditional one-shot process.

However, unlike reviving an existing long-standing operation, launching a new brand in these times is much tougher: the supply chain stood at a standstill, government departments weren’t functioning normally and containment zones created further barriers. And yet, Swarup and team laboured on. “My grandfather always said, ‘You have to be in the crease and wait for the loose balls’. Everyday doesn’t have to be a win, but you have to turn up and do the work everyday,” he said. The Terai team, working two years behind-the-scenes, has amped it up these past few months and the pre-launch hype online has been encouraging. Watching it unfold got me penning this scribble.

Furthermore, I am one of the fortunate few to have tasted it—a nice clean sip, herby-fresh with a balancing citrusy twang, pretty close to a classic London Dry, but with refreshing Indian touches. In the words of Karina “Gigglewater” Aggarwal, a renowned beverage-advocate who is also aligned with the brand, “There are many nuanced aspects that make this gin Indian without falling prey to clichés.” Beyond the stuff inside, I found the design language precise and metered too. Aggarwal also spoke about the “Channapatna handcrafted-and-lacquered wooden stopper and the traditional Indian architecture-inspired form of the bottle.” The subtle embossed botanicals form an intricate wreath on the green-hued label, which mimics elements from ancient coins (an interesting family story there). Everything about the bottle shouts premium, but subtly so.

As Swarup summed it up, “Our long-term aim was to deliver a product that competes with the best international brands and would be proudly displayed at the world’s top bars.” Regarding the route to market, he said, “Mixologists are important, but for the moment, connecting with consumers directly is more important.” We both avoided using the phrase ‘new normal’ in our conversation, but you get the drift.

Finally, my closing query: Any advice for other brands in the wings, which might be inspired by you to launch?’ “It is important to surround yourself with a talented team because they ace the tailwinds but can also brave strong headwinds like this pandemic,” he said.

As an industry veteran and columnist, I know that boutique produce has it tough. Everything is skewed towards big commercial brands with cheap products, leaving handcrafted ware struggling with high entry fees and inexplicably-convoluted systemic complications. Then there’s the consumer who forever disparages the locally-produced stuff. Between these two deterrents, it’s a perpetually thankless task. And yet, for the informed few, those who were already vocal for local before it became a politicised chant, there is a lot of good out there to be reaped. Speaking of goodness, Terai should become available in Delhi some time this month.

The writer is a sommelier

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