Salud! How this banker launched a gin & tonic brand and won Rana Daggubatti’s backing
Salud! The Spanish salud translates into “health”, “wealth”, and “security”, but most commonly means “cheers”. And Bengaluru-based gin and tonic brand Salud aims to bring cheer to your life and augment your lifestyle.
Launched in September 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lifestyle beverage startup aims to change the way people in India celebrate and consume alcohol.
Founder Ajay Shetty says the focus is on gin, a niche category that’s growing rapidly.
“We are solving a necessity in a market like India, given the increase in gin drinkers and the fact that demand is picking up,” he says.
According to research firm IWSR, only two million cases of gin are sold in a year as compared to 42 million cases of rum and 10 million cases of vodka. But the niche category is growing. Research and Markets projects that the Indian gin market will grow at a rate of more than 9 percent CAGR between 2017-18 and 2022-23.
Ajay wants to tap this market by focusing on the ready-to-drink category and creating a lifestyle around Salud. This began with the launch of G&T 2.0, a ready-to-drink alcoholic beverage in three flavours- Original, Cucumber, and Lavender. Apart from the alcoholic beverages, the G&T maker is focusing on exclusive music and merchandise that augments the feel-food lifestyle.
In January, the Bengaluru-based gin brand raised funds from actor and serial entrepreneur Rana Daggubati.
The size of the investment was not disclosed.
In the beginning
Ajay, a graduate of Christ College, completed post-graduate degrees from the New York Institute of Technology in 2002, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2004. He went on to join Merrill Lynch in the USA, and in 2011 became the MD of Myra Vineyards and sold the business to Grover Zampa Vineyards in 2019.
"As Chief Lifestyle Officer after the sale, I noticed a huge gap in the alcobev segment, especially in the ready-to-drink market. This led to the idea of Salud, India's first Gin and Tonic brand. I then went on to build and conceptualise the product with the team,” Ajay says.
Ajay was joined by Deeraj Shetty, CFO; Srinivas Naidu, the creative director, Shoiab Rafi, head of sales and marketing; Chengappa KS; head of operations, and Sid Kumar, the master blender.
"We came up with the whole idea, actually a vision, of creating a global or an urban lifestyle brand. The idea was wanting to change the way people party, by using music, clean drinking and showing them Life 2.0, the Salud lifestyle. We are a socially responsible brand and work with artisans to create ethical merchandise like our upcycled wood coasters, and artisanal handmade chalices with vegan colours,” Ajay says.
The core team comprises people who have worked with Ajay previously and known him for a decade. Prasad Vanga, the main investor, founder of Anthill Ventures, came on board after a short conversation with the team regarding the brand’s vision.
"It was really the belief in our idea, vision, and method that led them to back the brand.”
The Salud lifestyle
There has been a change in the way Indians consume and perceive alcohol in general.
According to a report by Craft Drinks India 2020, the Indian alcohol industry is the third largest in the world, valued at $35 billion. Statista states that the Indian alcoholic drinks market generated $49,029 million in 2020 alone, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.3 percent until 2023.
Gin is rising up the popularity charts as is evident from the number of new brands. Apart from global brands such as Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Hendrick’s Gin, and Fitzgeral Gin, newbie craft brands including Stranger & Sons, Samsara, Gin, and Nao Spirits are making a mark.
"Love for this spirit and consumption has increased demand in the Indian market, especially in the last few years. We are trying to cash in with a product that is classy, fresh, uncomplicated, and gender-agnostic,” Ajay says.
He adds that Salud wants to promote what it feels is the ideal combination: partying and responsibility.
“We're looking to influence the perception of a demographic that might pickup a pint of beer towards grabbing a bottle of our refreshing G&T instead.”
“The product is crafted as a bright, uncomplicated, and fresh drink. We want our range of flavoured G&T drinks to create a significant impact on the market and change people’s perspective on the way they unwind and celebrate life,” he adds.
But Salud aims to be more than a drink, which is why it has introduced Salud Sessions. These sessions are music led, where local and upcoming artists play at venues for Salud. From deep house to chill technomusic – it is perfect for sundowners and more.
Ajay believes that their music is the soul of the brand and the way to scale is by working with DJs, not just locally but also producers and musicians from across the world.
"Just like our music, which is for all times and seasons, so is our drink. We are not looking to be a one-drink pony. We want to be a global beverage and lifestyle brand, and are looking to introduce more products and to be game-changers,” he says.
Challenges and the future
Ajay does not want to disclose how much he has invested personally or talk about the seed round raised through Anthill Ventures.
The company began its journey by launching in the Bangalore retail market. Its current strategy is to build with on-ground branding and work with local outlets, HORECA, and retail.
The main difficulty was building and growing amidst COVID, understanding how the supply chain had changed, and learning the alcobev paradigm (liquor brands cannot be distributed online; they can only be sold in licensed restaurants and stores).
"We have had to constantly rework business models to ensure there were no issues or roadblocks in our path. It has been a learning curve rather as the world has changed," says Ajay.
"We are looking to generate our revenue through three main areas – through the beverages, our music and Salud Sessions, and through our merchandise. We are looking to be available across all outlets,” Ajay says.
The brand is presently available in 30 stores across Bengaluru, and its outsourced production has the capacity to manufacture 50000 cases a year.
Salud plans to launch new flavours and brands in the RTD segment, and expand across India and in a few select international markets soon.
“We are going to grow fast as this is a new category and will be available nationally soon,” says Ajay.