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Published on: Feb. 21, 2022, 2:59 p.m.
Peer presents the perfect tonic
  • Peer's tonic has superior taste without the extra sugar and calories

By Suman Tarafdar

G&Ts are having a bull run globally. While gins undoubtedly are the star of this particular show, the oft overlooked tonic waters are what actually started the show. Yes, tonic water, containing quinine, once a crucial antidote to malaria, was originally used as a prophylactic against the disease. Also, it is one of the discoveries the subcontinent can claim earliest use of, though quinine was probably first used in tropical Amazonian lands.

Of late, the rapid growth of Indian gin brands has seen a parallel move in the growth of tonic water brands. The latest to join the bandwagon is Peer. Desirous of standing out in a crowded space, it claims a differentiated brand positioning -- Peer is positioned as a contemporary lifestyle brand as opposed to ‘classic’, claims the lowest calorie tonic water brand in India, offers Bitter Lemon Tonic Water, a variant that no other Indian-origin tonic water offers and contains 15 per cent more carbonation on average than the competition, which leads to more fizz and effervescence.

Peer, made in Alwar in a USFDA-certified facility in a fully automated filling line, certainly comes in four variants and packaging designed to impress. In its first month since soft launch, the brand sold 6,000 units of its tonic water.

Peer was first available in Delhi NCR, Punjab and Uttarakhand, followed by Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Kolkata and expects to be in Goa and Rajasthan by end of February. It also ships pan India via the company website and online platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart and beverage marketplaces. Peer aims to be in 650 outlets by the end of 2022, growing at 15 per cent month-on-month in sales revenue. It is in conversation with VCs for funding and is looking to raise funds for additional innovative product launches and aggressive market expansion.

The Indian gin market is projected to grow at 9 per cent CAGR between 2017-18 and 2022-23, according to ResearchAndMarkets. The Indian mixers category is expected to keep pace, and is currently worth Rs3,500 crore, projected to grow at 9 per cent CAGR to reach Rs7,000 crore by 2030. Schweppes, part of the Coca-Cola group, is the best-known brand in India, though a number of Indian brands have emerged of late, notably Sepoy & Co, Fever Tree, Jade Forest and Svami.

Why tonic water

We have been tracking the recent growth and acceptance of premium gins and tonic, a trend that particularly picked up in the UK from 2016 onwards, says Anant Jangwal, founder & CEO. “However, it was only around 2019 that the premium gin and tonic market saw an uptick in India. Indian consumers were willing to pay a higher premium and want to experiment with a wider variety of gins. Additionally, consumers are now even caring about the tonic that goes with their gin. We worked intensely on finalising the tonic recipes that would appeal to the Indian palate and on creating a contemporary brand positioning. Regular tonic water typically contains as much sugar as soft drinks, which is 8-9 gm per 100 ml. Such a high dosage of sugar is added to mask the bitterness of quinine.”

However, Peer wanted to create a tonic that has superior taste but without the extra sugar and calories, says Lavanya Anand, co-founder & COO. “This is one reason why it took Peer 1.5 years, 20+ blind tasting focus group sessions, and numerous ingredient combinations to perfect the flavour profiles while containing 50 per cent less sugar than other mainstream tonics. Peer has gone a step further and even created a zero sugar and zero-calorie tonic variant for health-conscious consumers.

Adults in metro cities in the age bracket of 30-45 years over-index on gin and tonic consumption, points out Jangwal. “The general feedback for the popularity of gin as a spirit is because of the emergence of various craft premium gin brands now present in the Indian market and the variety of flavours/ botanicals possible with gins. There is also a general perception that gins are lower in calories and healthier comparatively.”

About 70 per cent of the time when a consumer is having gin, it is with tonic water, explains Jangwal. “Since the market for gin is growing, so is the tonic water market. As consumers’ preferences become more evolved, the greater the demand for premium offerings and variety in flavours. With consumers getting access to premium quality gins with exquisite botanicals and unique flavour combinations, they also wanted to move away from the typical overly-sweet tonic water that would overpower their drinks. They wanted tonics that enhance their gins instead, while being low in sugar and calories. Hence, the premium tonic water market emerged. Consumers have also become calorie-conscious and an increasing number of adults prefer tonic water that does not contain artificial preservatives, colours and flavouring.”

The response from the customers in premium retail outlets has been tremendous, says Anand. “Our 0 Cal. Tonic is turning out to be the top-selling SKU, followed by Bitter Lemon and Mint Tonic Water. In select modern trade stores we are present in, Peer has already captured a 10 per cent share of the sales value in the premium tonic water category.”

As the market for premium tonics and flavoured tonics is increasing, the whole tonic water drinking culture is moving beyond being only paired with gin, points out Jangwal. “With quality tonic waters in the market in exquisite flavours like mint, bitter lemon, tonic water consumption is not only limited to gin drinkers but also people who want to consume it as it is. The findings so far suggest that urban dwellers in the age bracket of 50+ particularly like Bitter Lemon Tonic without mixing any alcohol with it. People find the taste appealing, and like the fact that it is not sweet like conventional lemon-flavored soft drinks.”

The brand’s tonic flavours are receiving widespread appreciation from top mixologists and food critics, adds Anand. “We estimate that tequila may become a fast-growing category in the near future in India, looking at the growth in the American market. Tonic is now not only paired with gin but also enjoyed with other white spirits like vodka and tequila; so, there is huge potential in this space of beverage mixers.” Words to plan business expansion, mixing it up along the way!

The four variants

Indian Tonic, the classic original tonic flavour, which is a go-to tonic for most consumers;

Mint Tonic, a refreshing mint-flavoured tonic, which tastes as natural as a mint leaf when added to your gin -- mint is one of the most preferred herbs that people use to top their G&Ts to balance the strong botanicals in the gin;

Bitter Lemon Tonic, which has the same exotic lemon taste, sugar, and water, but also carbonation and quinine; and

0 Calorie Tonic, 0 Calorie and 0 sugar variant of the Indian tonic meets the needs of the health-conscious consumers.

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