Ginger ale and ginger beer have been a part of the British tradition for centuries. The warm sensation experienced while you guzzle down a pint of ginger ale on a chilly night has made it an all-time favourite in most of Europe and the United States.
When top premium British drinks company Fever-Tree began production of ginger ale, they wanted a signature blend of gingers for their customers. Their ginger ale, produced by blending essential oils from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cochin, is now among the top favourites in the UK and US markets. (One of the finest varieties of Indian ginger, Cochin ginger is known for its gentle flavor, sweetness, and velvety texture.)
Fever-Tree overtook Schweppes (from the Coca-Cola stable) as the top tonic water brand in the US and emerged as the number one ginger beer brand in the country in 2021.
“Put simply, our approach has been the same since Day 1. Namely, going out and finding the growers and ingredient hunters who share our commitment to focusing on the best ingredients. Whether it's the amazing ginger grown in the hills above Kochi or the blood oranges from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, we go out and discover where the best of the best can be found,” says Tim Warrillow, the Chief Executive Officer of Fever-Tree.
Fever-Tree's collaboration with Kolencherry-based firm Plant Lipids began during their search for the strong flavors of Cochin ginger.
Plant Lipids, a manufacturing company that began its operations in Kolenchery of Kerala's Ernakulam district in 1979, produces and exports essential oils, spice oleoresins, natural food colours, and whole and ground sterilised spices to over 85 countries worldwide.
“We have been working with the team at Plant Lipids since the early days of our existence. When we were developing our ginger beer and ginger ale, we were told the best ginger comes from Kochi and we were put in touch with the team at Plant Lipids who we have been working closely ever since,” adds Tim.
“When Fever-Tree approached us, they were interested in the extract of Cochin ginger that we had been supplying in the UK market,” says John Nechapadom, Managing Director of Plant Lipids.
Currently, ginger mixers account for around 20 per cent of Fever-Tree's global sales and are becoming an increasingly important part of its portfolio.
Fever-Tree uses Cochin ginger as an ingredient in all of their ginger mixer range. This includes Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer, Spice Orange Ginger Ale and their newest addition, the Blood Orange Ginger Beer.
“Our ginger products are growing at an incredible rate around the world. We are now the No 1 ginger beer brand in the US, meaning millions of Americans are enjoying the wonderful taste and aroma of Cochin ginger,” adds Tim.
From the foothills of the Western Ghats
The Cochin ginger, a connossiuers' choice for its gentle, sweet flavour, is known for its high yields and its usage in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Cultivated in the Western Ghats in the Rajakkad belt in Idukki, the ginger is collected by Plant Lipids from farmers on a contract basis.
The Fever-Tree team routinely visits suppliers at every level of the supply chain and takes an interest in how the ingredients are grown and the people cultivating them.
“It’s often a case of discovering hidden gems that can only be unearthed by thorough research and a passion for quality. It’s only then that are we able to identify the best, naturally sourced ingredients,” says Tim.
According to John, ginger is carefully processed into an essential oil for firms like Fever-Tree.
“The harvested produce, which is brought back to the plant, undergoes a process of grinding and distillation, before being converted into ginger oil. It can be stored for up to 18 months. The shelf life of the raw material is, however, four to six months. The finished product is stored in a climate-controlled situation,” says John.
Erratic weather patterns
The erratic weather pattern along the Western Ghats, however, poses a problem to ginger cultivation. Farmers need to control factors like soil quality and irrigation among other factors while cultivating to ensure the harvest of the superior quality rhizome.
Ginger, which requires well-draining soil and plenty of sunlight, takes months to mature. It is usually harvested in November and December.
"We try to keep a steady flow of supply with careful planning. Since the finished product has a shelf life of 18 months, we always keep extra batches in case of contingencies. This approach helps prevent a shortage of raw materials that can hamper production,” says John.
Plant Lipids has managed to keep a steady supply of ingredients to Fever-Tree for over a decade despite these hiccups.
Fever-Tree's plans for India
Fever-Tree, which began its operations in 2004, has overtaken popular brands like Schweppes to become the top tonic water brand in US and UK. The high quality of ingredients, including the Cochin Ginger, has helped them remain ahead of the curve despite their premium price range.
“I think our success shows that quality has broad appeal. Consumers are becoming ever more aware of what they eat and drink and are seeking out products that use high-quality ingredients rather than those that use artificial sugars, colours and flavourings,” Tim says.
Firmly rooted in quality, the brand is also eager to expand its horizons to newer markets. When asked about Fever-Tree's plans for India, Tim sounded optimistic.
“India is very much part of our expansion plans. On my last visit in January, I was amazed at how much everyone was talking about gin and tonic - it is a very popular drink that shows Indians have great taste! We have recently got a new distributor to help us grow in India and we are very excited about the potential for the region,” he adds.