Genies In A Bottle
Genies In A Bottle

How Sakshi Saigal, Rahul Mehra and Vidur Gupta — the trio behind Third Eye Distillery — changed the way we look at Indian spirits, and made USD 4 million in the process.

There’s a reason why the seemingly maniacal William Legrand — from Edgar Allan Poe’s celebrated 1843 short, The Gold-Bug — is fictitious. The everyman seldom chances upon treasure or wealth and those who do amass fortunes, meticulously plan for it. Such is the case with the trio behind Third Eye Distillery (TED), a private company that owns the citrusy and wildly popular gin Stranger & Sons, alongside their newest drop — Short Story, which has a gin, vodka, and rum. The company also recently acquired Svami, a premium mixer brand, and has the rights to import the French-owned Caribbean rum, Plantation. Together, TED is now more of a house of brands than a mere gin maker.

 

Founded by Sakshi Saigal, Rahul Mehra, and Vidur Gupta in 2018, TED has grown to become a formidable business in the Indian homegrown spirits market, and their experience has helped shape it that way. Gupta, who is an economist by study, had acquired knowledge about scaling factories through the process of setting up another food business. Saigal came armed with experience in logistics and impact investing. And Mehra, who had already been part of various F&B establishments in the country (including Gateway Brewing Company, a beer brand) was aware of the legalities, and also the processes and nuances associated with distilling a spirit. Gupta too knew a little about distilling, thanks to his time spent in Scotland, where whisky rules the roost. This helped them, to some extent, chart out a blueprint for a spirit brand that could be considered ‘premium’ in India and possibly also, garner global acclaim (which they did). All this is to say that, if there ever was a triad cut out for such a job, this was it.

 

 

As the process for setting up TED began, the team pored over reports, metrics, and data. “One thing that the three of us had in common was that we were all business-minded. I spent a lot of time working with the UK Trade Investment understanding how food and alcohol trends work. At the time, there was a market analysis that suggested India was going to be a hot market, and there were going to be alternatives to whisky and scotch,” Gupta shares, adding that information shared by global data gatherers helped, too. This included macro-economic trends, such as the per-capita spends on alcohol and travel rates, alongside global trends that indicated consumption of alcohol at different price points, all of which together suggested that “there was a large enough market for a pan-India product that could stand globally, and had export potential as well.”

 

Their hypothesis was right, because when running a business, market analysis plays an important role, yes. But so does instinct. “At some point, as an entrepreneur, you have to trust your gut. It’s called the paralysis of analysis — people can throw a hundred numbers at you. The idea is to take all of that and give it your best shot,” he points out.

 

What Gupta, Saigal, and Mehra were essentially trying to build was a competitive spirit brand that the country could call their own and that would qualify as premium. Despite naysayers, the trio went all guns blazing, reassured by their gut that India was ready to claim the premium space. “We got some of the best distilling equipment, began sourcing botanicals before they got exported, our bottles were made according to our specs, and we got good-quality corks,” Gupta says, explaining what makes their products top-end, which requires quality control on different levels, beyond the actual product. The team also put efforts into their branding, be it in terms of design or collaborating with big names and partaking in large scale events within the alcobev and food space. Within four months of piloting, they sold out. thereafter was to actually answer the demand, which required pivoting and scaling up production.

 

with a bunch of brands — including flagships (Stranger & Sons and Short Story), acquired labels (Svami), and products that they export (Plantation Rum) clubbed under the TED banner. Globally, they’re exporting to the UK, UAE, Singapore, Thailand, Mauritius, New Zealand, Taiwan, USA, Balkans, and Italy, and will be launching in Australia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong by 2023. In terms of revenue, they raked $4 million last financial year, and are looking at a $9-10 million figure for the next one. Earlier this year, they also acquired Countertop India, a consultancy that works with alcohol brands and hospitality entities, which is a step in the direction towards the brand’s goal to revive and renovate the cocktail culture in India.

 

towards a growth of this magnitude, but the founders say it was a mix of having an active group of investors and a good in-house team. “From winning a Gold-Outstanding at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, 2020, to receiving several international accolades at prestigious spirit competitions and getting picked as the first Indian brand for the Craft Gin Club UK, we’re proud not just to have put India on the global spirits map, but also to have led the way here in India. We’re hoping to elevate the cocktail culture on our home ground, which we have done with Countertop, by launching India’s first distilled cocktail, Perry Road Peru, and by collaborating with Four Pillars in Australia. We’ve also partnered with ecoSPIRITS, which will introduce low-waste, low-carbon spirits packaging technology in India, and make the closed-loop distribution model accessible to all,” explains Mehra.

 

But when TED started, they were ostensibly one of the first serious spirit brands in the homegrown, premium and craft segment, and at the time, sans the backing of heavyweight investors. This meant that along with the challenges that come with setting up any business, for that matter, they were also battling something way less conquerable: public opinion. Most of the people who knew about TED before it came to fruition, cautioned the brand that wanting to sell an Indian spirit priced at more than Rs 1,000 was dangerous at worst and wishful thinking at best. But the team knew this: India had agricultural and production bounty that would serve them in good stead eventually. And it did.

 

For this team, the future looks bright. As Saigal suggests, “We are slated to launch more world-class brands in multiple spirit categories globally, but we are also looking to control the narrative from production to consumption. Through our new vertical, Countertop, we aim to enable, accelerate and uplift the Indian bar industry through training and education. In the upcoming years, we will focus on creating a portfolio of imported brands to fill gaps in the beverage landscape and open global standard bars in major metro cities and tourist destinations in India. Indeed, we will also be exploring various domestic markets, such as Uttar Pradesh and Assam. Each new market brings a unique and diverse consumer base, which makes the experience, well, let’s just say, thrilling.”

 

Images: Third Eye Distillery

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