How Fever-Tree climbed to the top

Great timing and excellent vision have been Fever-Tree's tonic for success.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 13 Mar 2018

To make a legally defined gin under EU regulations you must have two things, a minimum alcoholic strength of 37.5% ABV and a dominant percentage of juniper.

The secret to a good tonic water? If Fever-Tree's success is anything to go by, natural ingredients, clearly defined marketing and impeccable timing.

The premium soft drink producer’s 2017 financial statement  fizzes with good news: a 64% increase in pre-tax profits, 66% growth in revenues and a doubling of light tonic sales in the UK.

But it is no accident that it has been able to ‘Schweppe’ aside competitors to become Britain’s best selling mixer brand. 

Timing isn’t everything... but it really helps

In 2003, there were few who could name but a single brand of tonic water. Among them were Fever-Tree's co-founders, former Plymouth Gin boss Charles Rolls and luxury food marketer Tim Warrillow.

They identified that distillers were pushing towards creating premium products and would need a premium mixer to complement - something the then market leader Schweppes didn’t provide.They also saw that the consumer was becoming increasingly health conscious.

Rolls and Warrillow were ahead of the game and by the time premium-gin fever swept the UK from 2011 onwards - gin sales grew 56% between 2011 and 2017 - Fever-Tree was in the perfect position to profit. 

Fever-Tree's size has also been an advantage. As a growing brand they were able to outmaneuver the unwieldy goliath of Schweppes and offer a more lavish and personal product to customers.

'It's a juggernaut, and in some ways that makes it a very good competitor, because it's actually very difficult for it to respond to us,’ said Tim Warrillow in a 2011 interview with MT.

‘It is obsessed with production efficiencies and economies of scale and can only buy in enormous quantities, and that restricts the products it can buy. We can develop products that the customer and retailer really want, rather than what the production department wants us to produce.’

The growth of the Fever-Tree

2003: Disgusted by the ‘artificial, saccharine-packed tonics’ that dominated the market, former Plymouth Gin boss Charles Rolls joined forces with Tim Warrillow to create a rival brand made from fresh, natural ingredients.

May 2005: After two years of experimentation and travelling the world for the perfect quinine - which involved Tim being held at gunpoint in the Democratic Republic of Congo - Fever-Tree launched. Five weeks later their products were being stocked by Waitrose.

2007: Fever-Tree launches in the USA and Spain, two of the largest gin-drinking markets.

2010: Five years in, Fever-Tree doubled its turnover to £8m, while profits were up 90%. Its Somerset based bottling contractor, Brothers Drinks, produced more than 19 million glass bottles.

2014: Publically listed on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market.

2017: Overtakes Schweppes as Britain’s biggest selling mixer brand.

Of course, now the real challenge for Rolls and Warrillow as the new market leader is maintaining their premium position.

Expansion into the North American market provides ample room for growth. Fever-Tree's US sales rose 39% over 2017 and in December it announced plans to establish a permanent base in the States after cutting ties with its sales agent Brands of Britain.

A move into launching mixers for dark spirits - which now account for 60% of global spirits sales - is further evidence that they constantly have their eyes on the horizon. 

This tree has its roots firmly in the ground and looks like it will keep growing.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/waniuszka 


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