While beer gets all the love in India, there are only a few who have explored outside and tried ciders. The main difference between the two is that cider is made by fermenting fruits and is therefore slightly sweeter than beer along with the fact that it doesn’t have a ‘beer head’.
Among the handful of companies in the country making the alcoholic spirit, Thirsty Fox is a brand to watch out for. Everything about their ciders screams premium and the brand has been gaining traction amongst craft spirit lovers for a while now. We sat down with Siddharth Sheth, CEO and Founder of Thirsty Fox Cider to tell us more. Here’s everything you wanted to know about Thirsty Fox’s ciders.
1 – First, here’s the backstory to how Thirsty Fox came to be launched
Thirsty Fox’s journey spans 22 months from ideation to shelf with entrepreneur Siddharth Sheth in the middle of it all. The time and place happened to be Somerville, MA from 2014 through early 2016. Living alone and in need of a hobby, he experimented with all things food and drink. Weekends were spent frequenting bars and taprooms in and around Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. As luck would have it, he started trying the ciders on tap and fell in love with them. One of the very first Ciders he fell in love with was Bantam’s Wunderkind from Bantam Cider Company based in Somerville.
Soon after, Sheth sent a handwritten note to the founders at Bantam Cider, requesting them to accompany him in his mission to bring all-natural, craft apple ciders to India.
Foxes are believed to be notorious among orchard owners because of their uncanny ability to seek out and steal the best apples. So, when it came to choosing a name for the company, the choice was easy. Over to Sheth for the rest of this interview.
2 – For a country not accustomed to ciders, what are the major problems and myths you’ve heard about ciders
Alcohol being a media dark category, educating the market on anything new takes a few seasons (in India). Because Thirsty Fox is an early entrant and a category leader, the onus is on us to build both the category and the brand, which includes educating the trade and the consumers. We’ve had to address recurring questions such as whether our products contain alcohol, whether they need to be diluted with water before consumption, and how our products are different from apple cider vinegar.
Consumers are familiar with grapes turning into wine but are surprised that we can turn apples into an alcoholic product.
3 – How are you planning on educating consumers about ciders?
At Thirsty Fox, we have a long-term orientation to category creation. We are not here to just sell our ciders but create a culture and appreciation for craft ciders in India. Driving consumer literacy for us is an ongoing initiative because we reach new consumers every day. All our owned media, such as packaging, website, social media, trade promotions, bar-staff training, have cider education built in. The focus areas are the history of ciders, how ciders are made, the different cider styles, what makes for a great cider occasion, how to enjoy a cider, food pairings, etc. In all our interactions, when we come across a new question, we make it a point to include it our FAQs section on the website,
4 – From New York to Hong Kong, what has been the impact of winning awards for your ciders?
Thirsty Fox Cider was conceived to be a global brand right from the start, so our primary motive to enter prestigious global awards is to compete against the best and set our benchmarks on product and packaging to the highest level. International recognition helps us convey our focus on quality and build confidence among our trade partners and suppliers. It helps us attract high potential talent into the company both in terms of hiring and agency partners. And most importantly, the end consumers are assured of a high-quality product experience with remarkable consistency.
5 – Tell us about the process of how Thirsty Fox’s ciders are made?
Our process emphasises using all-natural ingredients, fermenting at low temperatures, and ensuring strict hygiene and sanitation conditions. Our method of making ciders follows the traditional wine-making process.
Our process begins with fermenting apple juice with Champagne yeast. After fermentation, we mature and blend our ciders with honey, as is the case with Izzy or with tart cherries and peppercorns, like in Reed.
Once we achieve the desired flavour profile, we sterile filter, carbonate and package our ciders in our signature Stubby bottles. Finally, we pasteurise our ciders to ensure that they are shelf-stable.
6 – Tell us about Thirsty Fox’s variants Izzy and Reed
Thirsty Fox Izzy is golden summery cider, sweet, bright, and crisp delicately balanced with orange blossom honey. 6% ABV, Gluten-free
Thirsty Fox Reed is a beautiful ruby red cider, semi-dry, mildly fizzy, conditioned with tart cherries and peppercorns. 5.4% ABV, Gluten-free, Vegan
7 – The packaging and bottle look delightful. What’s the backstory to that?
Packaging is a powerful touchpoint in the alcohol category, and at Thirsty Fox, we believe that people first drink with their eyes. As we set out to create a new category in India, we wanted to establish a new grammar for ciders differentiated from beers and wines. We sought a label design that would convey the natural, easy-drinking, and delicious product and a bottle design that would underscore the values of simple sophistication and easy sociability.
We engaged with Marco Loschiavo from London-based design company EMME to bring this vision into reality. Together with his team of world-acclaimed designers, Loschiavo started by creating a botanical illustration for the labels. They drew inspiration from the concept of ‘The Art of Nature’, an approach that was pioneered by the famous 17th-century Belgian painter and botanist, Pierre-Joseph Redouté. EMME also designed a logo featuring a fox inside a medallion to match the brand name.
We assumed that the first time people would pick us for the packaging and the second time for the product. And we were proven right. The stubby bottle and our overall packaging are loved, create a distinguished personality, and justify the premium positioning and high standout on the shelf. Our packaging and product have received positive validation, winning prestigious awards for quality and consistently high NPS scores.
8 – What is India’s appetite for ciders, and how do you plan to capture this market?
The appetite for ciders in India is niche but growing, and our ambitions are not to capture the market but grow the market. Any category growth strategy requires the early entrants to collectively build the appetite and a taste regime among the consumers by creating a community, educating their consumers, creating strong product differentiation, driving consumption on the right occasions and helping consumers integrate ciders into their lifestyle with ease. We continue to do so through our communication online, influencer activities and partnerships.
9 – Not having competitors as such can be a boon or bane. What’s your take on Thirsty Fox and ciders in general in India?
The upside is there is a significant opportunity to set high standards and create a community of cider lovers who consume, love and care for the brand. The downside is that the category lacks a collective voice to influence the entire value chain starting from policymakers, distributors, trade partners and end consumers.
10 – Why did we not see any ciders until now in India?
Consumers are always open and on the lookout for new products to add to their repertoire. Ciders have been prevalent in a small way in the apple-growing regions of India, but building a new category is considered high risk and time-consuming by alcohol giants. A case in point is wheat beers – back then, the big brewers in India were fully aware of the emergence of wheat beers across the world and were entirely capable of replicating the success but did not take the risk, leaving the game open to new entrants. This has also happened with craft gins in India. We are witnessing the same with hard seltzers, a category on a meteoric rise in the US over the last few years, but we are yet to see large spirits companies introduce the category in India.
11 – Who do you consider your bigger competition – beers or specialty spirits like mead that are also eyeing the same TG as you?
We see competition as categories and brands at a specific price point vying for the same consumption occasion. Our focus is to win in occasions that are mid-tempo, involve spontaneous catch-ups, long conversations with friends, sunny brunches, relaxed sundowners etc. We have designed our ciders for easy sociability so that they taste delicious and are highly drinkable over a lasting occasion. We intentionally do not compete in up-tempo, high-energy occasions where the consumers are looking to get drunk, such as nightclubs.
12 – What have been some important learnings from launch to retail until now?
− Category creation takes time. One needs to be patient and have a long-term orientation.
− Selling the brand idea to the trade is as important as selling it to the consumer.
− Creating a community of brand lovers is valuable; repeat purchase and word of mouth is gold.
− Consumers are willing to co-create, and brand and they genuinely want insurgent brands to succeed.
− Over invest in product and packaging because they are the biggest drivers of adoption and referral.
− Consumers who appreciate a product borne out of a labour of love are willing to pay a premium where it is deserving.
− Trade has witnessed many brands fail; we must prove them wrong every day.
− Permitting alcohol brands to sell eCommerce can create a level playing field.
13 – Somerville to India with half a decade to look back at, how you look at your own journey and what’s next for Thirsty Fox?
This journey has been one that couldn’t have been orchestrated, however much I wanted it. As humans, we naturally tend to create and seek a cause-effect relationship between the first things that come to mind – we instinctively create a narrative to fit our preconceived notions. While a lot of our success has been because we have been focused, persistent and determined to make things happen, there is a much larger part of my journey that is serendipitous.
Luck has had an untold and unmeasurable influence on the brand, the products and the journey as a whole.
While I don’t know how or where Thirsty Fox will end up, our vision is to become synonymous with craft ciders in India and create a global brand in its appeal. I’d love for Thirsty Fox to be recognised for creating a real, global, crafted cider made in India. At the moment, we are focusing all our energies on the premiumisation of the cider category and the cider drinking experience and educating the consumer about what a great craft cider should taste.
As far as our plans for India are concerned, we are looking at expanding into Karnataka and Goa by next year and Delhi the year after. The rest of the markets should follow shortly thereafter.
14 – What does World Cider Day mean to you?
World Cider Day (June 3) gives us a sense of community and purpose. It is a day when we connect with apple growers and cider makers worldwide who are united by the only goal of ‘grow apples-grow cider’. We imagine it as a sunny day when cider lovers from across the world are sitting on one long table reminiscing and celebrating the joyful and challenging times over cold glasses of ciders.
And on a table full of cider lovers, there’s always room for one more! Just pull up a chair.
15 – What is one message you would like to give out to people to try ciders?
Life is unpredictable; choose interesting.
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Priyanko Sarkar is the Founder Editor of Gurgl.in. He has been a writer for over 15 years and this site is his attempt to document India's growing beverage sector with impactful and interesting stories. His favourite drink is Vietnamese Coffee and his favourite spirit is Turkish Raki.