Real Innovation Awards 2017: Harnessing the Winds of Change winner

Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow knew they could shake up the drinks market with a new premium mixer. Here's how the Fever-Tree founders built a £2.5bn brand.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 02 Nov 2017

Disgusted by the quality of mass-market, saccharine-packed drink mixers, Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow decided to start their own tonic water brand in 2003. Everyone thought they were nuts. How on earth would they compete against the Goliaths of the industry, Schweppes? But Rolls, the former boss of Plymouth Gin, and Warrilow, who’d worked in luxury-food marketing, knew they were onto something. By creating a rival brand made from fresh, natural ingredients, they could revolutionise the stagnant mixer market and take advantage of increasingly health-conscious consumers.

And so began a 15-month journey to concoct the perfect recipe. They spent days in the British Library researching ‘quinine’ - the vital ingredient to tonic - and travelled around the world to find the purest strains. It was a trip to the last remaining plantation of Cinchona Ledgeriana on the Rwanda-Conga border that changed their fortunes forever. Despite being held up by a band of local militia brandishing a rocket launcher and AK-47s, it was there that they sourced the highest-quality quinine. They blended it with spring water and eight botanical flavours, including marigold extracts and bitter orange from Tanzia, to produce their first bottle of Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water in 2005.

Within weeks of launching, they’d signed a deal with Waitrose, propelling them straight into the premium retail market.

Fever-Tree now has 14 products in its drinks range, including elderflower tonic water, Sicilian lemonade and Madagascan cola, and is available in 65 markets globally. No luxury hotel or Michelin-starred restaurant is without a supply of Fever-Tree in its mixer cabinet.

Warrilow and Rolls floated the business in late 2014 and it has continued to smash expectations. It was last year’s best performing stock on London’s junior Aim market and currently has a market cap of just over £2.5bn, making it worth more than 170-year-old Britvic and about three times as much as British high-street stalwart Debenhams. Schweppes, watch out.

‘In the UK [the mixer category] is now the fastest-growing soft drink category, growing at 17% in the first half of the year. And the statistic we are proudest of is that Fever-Tree contributed to 99% of that growth, so it is very encouraging,’ said Warrilow earlier this year.

Fever-Tree now plans to expand further into the US market, where it wants to strengthen its presence with its dark spirit range.

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