Paper Boat embraces southern flavours

‘Panakam’, a popular drink in south Indian households, will be available only as part of Paper Boat’s seasonal portfolio in the south


Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Bengaluru: For 35-year-old Aparna Sivakumar, a marketing consultant in Chennai, drinking panakam, a sweet concoction of jaggery, infused with notes of ginger, cardamom and lemon, reminds her of lazy summer holidays.

It was hot and her mother’s recipe of the local drink, served traditionally around the festival of Rama Navami, was always around.

The drink, popular in south Indian households, is now moving out of the kitchens and into bottles, packaged and sold by ethnic drinks company Hector Beverages that owns the Paper Boat brand. The brand sells home-made concoctions like kokum, aamras and jaljeera to Indians who’ve been fed on bottled colas for years.

The idea, a year and a half in the making, was developed by the company’s in-house team of researchers after conversations with employees helped realize that the company’s portfolio of ethnic drinks had little to offer for households in south India.

“We realized that our portfolio was increasingly becoming too north-centric,” said Neeraj Kakkar, founder and chief executive at the company.

It also helps that households in north and south remain insulated from the less popular food cultures in their respective region.

The move, Kakkar added, “will help grow awareness and appreciation”.

K. Ramkrishnan general manager, IMRB Kantar Worldpanel that tracks consumer spends across categories in urban and rural households, endorsed Hector’s move, citing a growing trend towards strong regional brands and products.

“Regional is the story in FMCG, most large MNCs rely on a national portfolio for all India, but when they come to certain states, strong brands always eat into market share, so it’s a smart move by Hector to make these regional products already available to wade off competition.”

Sequoia Capital-backed start-up Hector Beverages has been infusing funds into India’s $5.18 billion beverage market, where it is helping reverse the trend of drinking fizzy beverages with more ethnic and regional drinks.

According to a report by researcher Business Monitor International, the Indian market for non-alcoholic beverages, comprising carbonated drinks, juices, bottled water, ready-to-drink tea and coffee and sports drinks was $5.18 billion by 2015.

For finalizing the flavour of panakam, food technicians from the company spent days travelling to parts of up-country Andhra and Tamil Nadu, and tried at least 6-7 variants.

For now, panakam will be available only as part of its seasonal portfolio in the south. The move is part of the company’s sales strategy, where it closely tracks popular festivities in India, to launch more regional local products for a short duration.

“There are short seasonal bursts, as demand for such flavours is high around festivals,” Kakkar said, explaining that there’s thandai for the north during Holi and sharbet for Ramazan. Panakam will be available across Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai as a limited period edition.

Additionally, the company also announced the launch of neer more, a Southern variant of the popular dairy beverage buttermilk, infused with curry leaves, ginger, green chillies and heeng.

The company, added Kakkar, will do more to launch products, after extensive research to procure and package such drinks.

It is also opening a third research and developement centre in the Month of May where investments of $1 million will make it the company’s largest such centre in India. It already has two R&D centres in Mysore and Manesar.

Hector Beverages has been ramping presence in the market, innovating with local beverages.

Last year, the company raised $30 million in fresh funding from existing investor Sequoia Capital and new funds such as Sofina Capital and Hillhouse Capital Management, boosting the company’s valuation to $100 million.

Kakkar had then announced plans to enter the dairy beverages market, apart from expanding capacity for existing products.

READ MORE