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‘Our Ayurvedic Water will be an alternative to carbonated drinks in the market’

Wednesday, May 30, 2018, 15:50 Hrs  [IST]

Established in Finland at the end of 2006, VEEN is a premium natural mineral water brand which produces distinctive bottled water products of individual characteristics in recyclable glass packaging. The brand discovered its second home in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan in 2014. Available in 16 countries across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia including India and China, the brand portfolio includes its premium spring water and mineral water ranges. As part of entering into the growing functional water segment, VEEN will be introducing their Ayurvedic Water range into the market soon. Developed in consultation with Dehradun-based Ayurveda practitioner, Urvashi Naithani, VEEN’s range is an easy, healthy, and delicious alternative to artificially sweetened beverages. To know more about VEEN and its foray into functional water segment, Hospitality Biz spoke to its Chairman, Aman Gupta

Q How is the market for premium spring and mineral water evolving in India? How has been your journey in the South Asia market ever since you set up your second base in Bhutan?
Premium water market is evolving in the Indian market, but it is evolving slowly. Majority of the people do not understand the difference between the packaged drinking water and natural mineral water. That in itself is a huge educational process. The drinking water market is largely dominated by packaged drinking water. The segment we are in is a tiny market. We understand that we are in a category where there is a huge gap in terms of education. We want to be the leaders in that education process in the market. Veen is the first brand in India market which has both still and sparkling water in a glass bottle. For a country of our size, we are still far behind. Now three years later there are multiple brands in India offering water in a glass bottle. But, we by far enjoy the first mover advantage in that category.

In general, most of our South Asia focus is still in India. We have just started exporting our products to Thailand from our Bhutan spring. Thailand is the second biggest market that we are targeting from our spring in Bhutan.

Q How did it help the company distribute your products costcompetitively in a market like India where customers are more price-conscious than value-conscious?
It is a tough market where people are cost-conscious. Therefore, we started by targeting the top-end of the market first. Most of our clients are premium HoReCa clients. We wanted them to be the first adopters. They are price sensitive too, but not as the general market. Quality, of course, counts. The quality of our product is far superior to what people used to in the market thus far. People were happy to pay more for what they could get natural mineral water in a recyclable glass bottle with premium packaging all of which were not available. People appreciate good-quality products although pricing continues to be a challenge.

Q What is the inspiration behind launching Ayurvedic Water and where do you see the opportunity for such innovative product in the regional and global market?
Functional water category has been growing globally on a very fast scale. Every market has its own vitamin water now and it is a growing category. We wanted to get into the functional water category. But, we did not want to get into the vitamin water category considering our core in natural mineral water. We wanted to stay to our core and Ayurveda came as a natural progression to us. Instead of infusing water with vitamins, we thought to better infuse it with botanical vegetables, fruits, that have a function. That’s how we decided on a natural functional water category.

Q What are the different flavours that you are planning to launch in the market and what would be the different packaging and pricing of these products in the Indian market?
The first few variants in the Ayurveda water range would be Amla & Tulsi, Saffron, Ginger & Honey, Blackcurrant, and Apple & Mint. We want to offer them as a replacement for carbonated soft drinks which are high in sugar content and therefore harmful. The bottle size would be 330 ml single serve glass bottle.

As far as pricing is concerned, we are in the final stages of strategising the positioning of the product, etc. therefore haven’t decided on the pricing.

Q What is your current penetration in the institutional market like Hotels, Restaurants, etc. How do you plan to grow in that market?
We are in 10 cities in India now, covering probably about 300 outlets in India. This includes premium hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc. We have been able to grow the coverage in the last one year. We continue to grow region-wise and market-wise every month. We are now entering Rajasthan and Goa markets. This year we have set a target to enter five to six new cities with distribution.

We work with pretty much all the premium hotel brands - ITC, Taj, Oberoi, Marriott, Hilton, Lalit, etc. We have either full or partial coverage in these brands. Now our target is to grow our foothold in the standalone restaurants.

Q How do you differentiate your brand and products from the category you are in?
We are the only natural mineral water company selling still and sparkling water in a glass bottle. That is our biggest USP and nobody else is there in that space in the market.

Q What are the key challenges that you face in a market like India where consumer awareness about the category is lacking? What are your strategies to build consumer awareness?
Consumer awareness is a challenging task in a market like India. What we do is, we have a very strong customer education programme. With every new customer, whether it is a hotel, restaurant or a bar, we set up our Veen Training Programme for the entire service staff. We give their staff a general water education course so that they are able to distinguish between normal water, bottled water, and natural mineral water. With this, they are able to distinguish the product, its characteristics, the way it is procured, bottled, etc. Education goes hand in hand with sales for us and we will continue to do so with new Ayurveda water roll out as well.

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