Founder of Fruzzante, Priyanka Save talks to Restaurant India about the challenges that lie ahead of the world’s first brand that makes alcoholic beverage from chikoo.
Fruzzante is the world’s first and only producer of alco-bev made from chikoo (Sapodilla) extracts. Conceptualized in 2010, the brand is the brainchild of Priyanka Save and her husband Nagesh Pai; the entrepreneur couple has a background in Mechanical Engineering. Under their leadership, the brand has produced more than 25,000 bottles since the wine’s launch on the New Year’s Eve of 2017. The brewery is part of their family’s Hill Zill Resort in Bordi, 25 km from Dahanu, and was instrumentally aided by Dominic Rivard, an award-winning winemaker and cider specialist, from Nova Scotia, Canada.
Fruzzante was awarded a silver medal at “Drink Outside the Grape” challenge 2017 held in the USA where they were pitted against 145 wines and ciders of the world.
In an interview with Restaurant India, Partner and Founder at Hill Zill Wines and Fruzzante, Priyanka Save speaks about the world’s first brand to make cider style alcoholic beverage from chikoo.
Fruzzante is the world’s first to make cider style alcoholic beverage from Chikoo. How did you come up with the idea? Why chikoo?
The genesis of the idea untwines the hands of time to my childhood days. I was raised in the chikoo orchards of Dahanu-Gholvad, hence the significant affection for and intimate bond with farm-grown fruits. Things took a turn for the worse when a seed borer disease severely affected the chikoo market in 2004. Farmers’ hands were tied, and they resorted to cutting off the plantations. That struck a chord amongst the entire region, which was the moment that our quest for recognition was coupled with the ardent desire of revival. Hence, our initial idea was to process chikoo in a package-able form. On arriving at the conclusion that it is in the nature of the fruit to ferment, we proceeded to brew a cider-style alco-beverage.
What makes the Fruzzante products different from that of other alcohol beverage players?
There’s a stark difference between Fruzzante and other players because we are the world’s first and only producer of a cider-style alco-beverage made from chikoo/sapota. We are in turn the only company producing fruit-based and non-grape bottled products in the wine category that is, currently, commercially available. We are both vegan and gluten-free which makes it a healthy choice as well.
In addition, Fruzzante products are also unique in the sense that they are all home-grown with our brewery set up in the family’s Hill Zill resort in Bordi, 25 km from Dahanu. Apart from intending to glamorize the cider and fruit industry, we earnestly work to put out local farmers on the map.
By far, which beverage is people's favourite?
Even though we have other variants in the gluten-free range like Pineapple, Mango, and Spice Garden (Cinnamon, Ginger and Honey), our flagship cider-style alco-beverage made from chikoo is still the most favoured of the lot.
Your business model to reach out to more customers?
In order to reach out to more customers, we envision working with several other fruits while maintaining quality standards. We have currently four varieties of Fruzzante and we are planning to add newer fruits under this brand. We also have a sparkling white wine from Starfruit blended with grapes under the brand name JIWA and a premium honey dessert wine or mead under the brand name ARKA.
In addition, people are looking for authenticity in the products they use because they are being bombarded with adulterated ones. We, therefore, strive to represent honest producers who understand the need of the market and bridge the gap through authentic, unadulterated, and tested products. As a home-grown brand, we bring the traits of understanding, compatibility, and reliability to the table.
How do you price the products?
The wine MRP is Rs 255 for 330ml. The cost is also considering the 100% excise duty applicable on the product, unlike grape wines that are duty-free in Maharashtra. Also, 20% VAT is applicable, unlike grape wines that enjoy a 16% rebate. We have approached state governments several times to treat all fruit wines as equal and be given the same benefits as grape wineries enjoy. However, we await an answer on the same.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
As mentioned, our wines are brewed only with local produce obtained from the farmers only. Our labels indicate the location of the fruit procured. For instance, chikoo is procured from Dahanu-Gholvad while pineapple from Dodamarg-Sindhudurg all located in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. The farmers are active participants in the entire process and we recognize their efforts by mentioning them on our product labels.
Your expansion plans?
Apart from tying up with a few distributors to make a good distribution network in Maharashtra, we further envision working with several other fruits in the future while striving to maintain quality standards. We are looking to add strawberry from Mahabaleshwar and oranges from Nagpur soon.
Key challenges you faced initially with Fruzzante?
We, initially, found chikoo to be a laborious fruit to attract in the market; there were problems of high pH levels, uneven ripening and low shelf-life. Chikoo is immensely dissimilar to fruits like grapes which ripen naturally and harvest easily. It rather requires controlled environments, and hence we resorted to ripening in chambers that control the natural ripening process as opposed to non-organic means. The benefit was uniform ripening and better quality of juice, thereby, resulting in a quality product.
We invariably faced several challenges in terms of processing the fruit where our experience spanning over a decade in Mechanical Engineering came to the fore. We also implemented sustainable means for cost savings which include north facing stilt levels (least sun exposure) for winery location to ensure less cooling load resulting in power savings. The further implementation of ozonators helped maintain hygienic and sterile conditions in the facility to keep the products free from unwanted bacteria and viruses.
There were also challenges in packaging the highly perishable fruit, which was eventually solved with the help of a fully automatic bottling filling machine. This enabled appropriate and efficient rinsing, filling, and capping of the bottles. Therefore, the bottling along with our air-conditioned storage facility helps maintain comfortable temperatures for product storage.
With all the challenges we have faced, we haven’t relinquished or compromised on our stance of placing quality before anything else; a vital element in any process.
The key challenges you foresee and how do you plan to cope?
The key challenge is to compete against the grape wine industry that enjoys 100% excise duty exemption as well as VAT rebate. Due to tax implication, our cost is higher as compared to a grape wine of a similar nature. The USP of our product that it’s made from actual fruits without the use of colours or flavours attracts the consumers. We are in talks with the government for extending the same tax holiday that the grape wine industry enjoys.
Your take on helping the native Warli Tribe?
Fruzzante is a brand that is socially aware as it is innovative. We never fail to understand the vital role played by the native Warli Tribe. Apart from promoting native growers by mentioning them on each product, the proceeds from the sale of the special “Starfruit Jiwa” flavour of the drink are contributed for the well being of the native Warli tribe. They deserve immense credit for their perseverance and efforts in reviving the chikoo market.
How do you see the concepts like Fruzzante for the Indian market - in terms of customers and consumers both?
Authenticity, reliability, and quality are the core aspects consumers are either consciously or subconsciously seeking in today’s market. Hence, more home-grown concepts built on these three pillars are likely to impress them and, thereby, garner recognition. The modern market is much more inclusive of audiences than it was perhaps a decade ago, with more emphasis on individual experience rather than aggregates. Hence, it would bode well for new players to derive something meaningful and take the consumer through an engaging journey.