Export story: Fever Tree
Co-founder Tim Warrillow explains how the international market got a taste for Fever Tree's soft drinks
The soft drinks business started exporting by securing a deal with the world's best restaurant. The founder tells GB what happened next
Catalan restaurant El Bulli has been named best restaurant in the world in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 (last year it was named second best). The chef Ferran Andria is renowned for his work with molecular gastronomy, giving the restaurant a near legendary reputation among gourmands, who vie for the sought-after places to pay an average of …250 for a meal there.
You'd think then, that the restaurant would be somewhat picky about the suppliers it uses. So when it agreed to stock Fever Tree's premium soft drinks, it not only kick started the British company's exporting strategy, but it gave their products a valuable prestige.
When Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow launched Fever Tree in 2005, they initially concentrated their sights on the home market, securing sales in major supermarket chains, high end pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels, including the Ritz and Claridges. But just 12 months later the drinks were being served in El Bulli.
“It was off the back of El Bulli that we starting getting calls from other international businesses interested in our products, which is really how our export market got started,” explains Warrillow. “The business started to grow quickly in the UK in terms of distribution and awareness following the sale, so we took advantage of this to expand the brand.”
Fever Tree currently exports to at least 25 countries around the world – “a figure which is growing by the week”, says Warrillow. “What's very exciting is that, as the business develops, we are getting ever more inquiries.
“Last year we brought in around 10 new countries and expect we will do the same this year,” he adds.
One market Fever Tree has struggled to break into is Thailand, due to its stringent legal constraints. Warrillow explains: “The documentation in Thailand is really in a different league to other countries as we have spent over 12 months now going backwards and forwards with the Thailand authorities. It is extraordinary the detail they require and the length of time it takes to satisfy them.”
According to Warrillow the way to crack the market comes down to perseverance and gaining all the advice you can. He says Fever Tree spent time “getting help from local agents, talking to people on the ground and those who have been through the process in order to get as much local knowledge as possible”.
In the past Fever Tree has made use of the government-backed body Food from Britain (FFB), which is no longer operational but was set up to help British food and drink exporters break into the US market. “When we were researching the US market they were very helpful in putting us in touch with a supplier that we still use,” says Warrilow.
Exporting was always a key part of the business' growth strategy, and today 50% of its £8m revenue is export driven. The company has projected a turnover of £12m next year as it continues to grow its export market by moving into emerging fast-growth markets including China and India.
When Fever Tree first began production, importing was fundamental to the start-up plan, and the pair searched far and wide to source the best ingredients – from the Ivory Coast for ginger, to the south of France for lemon and thyme. “We really do go where the best ingredients are and try and form a direct relationship,” says Warrillow, recently back from a trip to the Congo to source quinine where “just making contact to start with was a challenge in itself, and then getting the product back was harder still”.
The day-to-day logistical and regulatory challenges of importing and exporting all over the world is something Fever Tree has taken in its stride and it generally ships stock by sea, unless demand outstrips stock, as recently happened in Australia, where Warrillow says, “things have been going particularly well so we have had to supplement with some air freight, which is very painful at the price but we are keen to retain the continuity of supply”.
When exporting to Europe the company tends to transport much of the stock by road, and “is always in talks with distributors to ensure we get the best price,” says Warrilow.
The logistics look very unlikely to slow down Fever Tree's ambitious growth plans for the coming years, and its expansion into fast-growth markets looks set to continue apace.
“We are very positive that this business has a long way to go in terms of growth in the UK and international market,” says Warrilow. “The future is exciting and we are pleased to be exporting a premium drink to the world's top hotels and restaurants.”