In the next five years, anyone thinking of a fruit beverage should only think of Fruzzante: Nagesh Pai

In an exclusive conversation with Mumbai Live, Nagesh Pai, the man behind the new popular cider-style fruit wine, shares his journey, challenges, insights, and aspirations about the product.

  • In the next five years, anyone thinking of a fruit beverage should only think of Fruzzante: Nagesh Pai
  • In the next five years, anyone thinking of a fruit beverage should only think of Fruzzante: Nagesh Pai

Many of us strongly believe that wine is made only from grapes. But unfortunately, this piece of information is incorrect. The beverage market, especially the wine-sector, has developed over the years, and consumers today are ready to try the new offerings available. One sub-segment growing fast in the wine category is the beverage made from the fruit nectar, and amid the key players is Fruzzante.

Developed under the label, Hill Zill Wines, Fruzzante is a brainchild of Mumbai based Nagesh Pai and his wife, who grew up in Dahanu. Their interest in promoting the local produce and understanding the gap in the market has made them a name to reckon with. 

In an exclusive chat with Mumbai Live, Nagesh shares the challenges, struggle, aspirations, and a memorable journey the couple has been through over the last few years.

Where it all began...

(Laughs) It started in 2009 and it is almost a decade – from just a random home experiment to tasting, understanding quality, stabilization and now knowing a lot about the business. It took a lot of time, but we both are glad that today we are successful. My wife and I used to live in the US and the journey began when both had an idea during a vacation here on our visit to India when we saw a struggle with the Chikoo fruit. Both of us are very fond of the fruit and the availability but very concerned about the trees being cut. Locals were making this move because the sales weren’t great and the fruit in a large quantity used to go waste eventually resulting in a loss. By nature, the fruit is very perishable. It ripens quickly and the farmers weren’t getting any value for it, and this bothered us because the wastage was largely due to the change in taste. We wanted to do something as Chikoo is our identity and it has got the geographical indication. Moreover, not many of us know, but we are the best Chikoo producing place in the country.

People were doing a lot with Chikoo, be it chips, shakes etc., but the efforts were not appreciated and the opportunity to use the fruit wasn’t being leveraged enough. The farmers and locals, even today are unaware of what all we can do with it, and so as an idea, both of us thought of glamorizing it. Hence the experiment began and we soon realized that we could control the fermentation to get wine. A lot of work went behind this and we understood that in order to get the pulp-less juice, we would need to apply high pressure, through a machine. We procured the same from Italy and today we have a press that can do the same, and now we get the clear Chikoo nectar, which is about 25% of the volume of the Chikoo fruits we use. We were successful in our attempts, and continued working on the product to reach this stage.

Restaurants are open to trying new beverages, and they are ready to serve it. However, people are hesitant, largely due to awareness. In the resort, the sales are impressive. We get orders from smaller cities, but Mumbai is developing slowly. Having said this, I’m happy, as we are getting there at a good speed.

Response from the audience and the F&B sector

To be honest, we are only one year old in the market, basis which I can say that we have received a positive response for the product. I have been to some wine exhibitions and events and I'm glad that we were among the highest sellers in the criteria, where we sold almost the complete stock, in fairly large numbers. 

As we are known among the players, it has become easy to approach everyone, and many resorts and restaurants want to try the product. What bothers the sales is mostly the price range we offer as it affects the overall margins, eventually the sales reduce. The situation is similar in many parts of the city, where the product would work, but not at this cost. Our wines are not made of grapes and so as per the regulations, we don’t get any rebate, as the law doesn’t support the same on beverages made from any other fruit. Our MRP on a pint-sized bottle is on the higher end than the other options available, which acts as a major disadvantage. Customers are willing to try a new product but that's just one time sale. The repeat or a bulk order is difficult today, as they don’t prefer paying the amount. If we had placed the price at 150-160, then we would have been happy.

Hence, my target is emerging cities. Our current target today is to approach and reach as many restaurants as possible, irrespective of their size and infrastructure. What I have noticed is that small restaurants try and order in minimum quantities, thereby making the product available to the audience. Eventually, this will help us reach the bigger and well-known names in the industry. I also believe that plush restaurants will appreciate and accept the product, mostly because we are gluten-free, vegan, and natural, which attracts a large audience today. We are targeting the international market is something on my mind, especially Hong Kong, as the trade is easy and it opens doors to many other countries. I don’t want to do it very fast, but yeah, we have sent the samples and are waiting for the response.

What's more on your mind?

I'm very happy with the portfolio we have created. Having said this, the team has also experimented with flavours and fruits. Recently, we launched the new variant Chikoo Spice garden and cider-style wine from pineapple, mango, and star fruit. On the premium end, we have launched a dessert wine - honey mead - made from the floral honey.

We have noticed that Chikoo is something people don’t prefer on a regular basis, and so one takes a lot of time and patience to decide and try. The new variant of Chikoo wine - spice garden, has less alcohol and can be served on many occasions. The response is wonderful and pineapple is preferred by a majority of the audience. To make it better, we have enhanced the flavour by making it more desirable.

For now, we want to produce only cider style fruit-based wine. But under the license, I have the permission to try cider-style wine from anything.  In the long run, my wife and I are keen on exploring the possibilities with apple, orange, strawberry and wine from Mahua flowers too.

Celebrating Chikoo with a festival

This is our 7th year of celebration. Going back in time, in the first year of the festival, I remember that we started with only 6-7 stalls and funded it from our pocket. Maharastra Tourism (MTDC) noticed our efforts and success in the future years and participated in promoting the same. Eventually, they came on board with time and now have offered some funds to support the local farmers, their craft and the motive. The government helps us with the funds directed through the gram panchayat. 

The aim of this festival is to be non-political and to ensure the people from the city know the village culture, and also to help the local farmers to sell their produce and products. Around two years back, we also had tourists from Maharashtra and last year, we had around 150-160 stalls, where we collectively generated revenue in crores. The number of visitors (footfall) has been increasing by 20% every year. Last year we got more than a one lakh people, and the year before it was around 70-80,000. Vendors and locals sell fruits, fishes, handloom and other products. Owing to the success, people here in the village have been asking us for a while and all I had to tell them was to wait as I had to plan the new edition of the festival.

We do not entertain any political activity or celebrity related endorsements. This makes our festival special as the ribbon is cut by the first person who visits the festival, be it a child or an adult. Purely with the efforts and honesty, we have been reaching achieving new heights and our target is to get more tourists from Maharashtra. In the coming years, we look forward to calling more people from different part of the state and show their culture.

 I’m happy that the audience is appreciating the local cuisine, culture and the idea.

Aspirations and way forward

On the business front, we have been appealing to the commissioner and visiting the officials at the excise office regularly to demonstrate what we have to offer. Manufactures like us really need support as we are producing a fine quality product with a fruit, purely with an aim to support local farmers and promote local produce. Over a decade or so, other companies have successfully convinced the government for a rebate, and they have received it, unfortunately only for grapes. It is a success for them, but it hasn't changed our scenario. Moreover, their contract has been extended for the next 10 years, but producers like us who make beverages from any other fruits, suffer even today.

Keeping the aspirations in mind, we will continue to focus and try with the fruits that our region is known for. Our aim remains the same - to promote the best quality of fruits and stand by the farmers, across the state. We want to support them and the traders, as it is important for us as a community to be together. All of us collectively want to create a neat, nice and a niche product everyone would love to enjoy.

I only wish that in the next five years, anyone thinking of a fruit beverage should think of Fruzzante.