Unbottled With... Varun Sarna
Updated: Mar 6
Kaveri Drinks, the London-based organic cold-pressed ginger vodka, started when founder Varun Sarna was cold-pressing juices in his kitchen. Fast forward to 2023 and Varun's ginger vodka has been featured at Nobu, Four Seasons and Bayan Tree. Organically and naturally focused, this is a brand that puts the environment at the heart of what they do with 1% of its profits donated to reforestation in Southern India, around the Kaveri river - the vodka's namesake.
Varun chats with us today about life in the Drinks Industry, his favourite way to enjoy Kaveri and the future of Kaveri Drinks.
Hi Varun! Tell us what your career in the Drinks Industry looked like so far.
I used to be a lawyer. I did the good Indian boy thing and studied law before going on to practice in the city. I’ve always had a passion for natural, organic products though, and so I decided to take a leap of faith and give this a go.
On that, I recently saw a twist on a famous quote from JFK which read “we do this not because it’s easy, but because we thought this would be easy”. It is obviously gallows humour, but I think there’s a profound truth to it when it comes to CPG products and in particular the drinks industry.
It’s hardcore managing all your business channels and being exposed to supply chain risk at the same time, but it makes you grow up quickly.
When was your moment of inspiration for Kaveri?
Thinking about bread and juice!
I’ve always been focused on trying to eat as naturally as possible, and I really felt the Spirits space was yet to catch up with the movement towards keeping things real.
In so many other categories people have woken up to the fact that the best quality products are those which are less refined, less filtered, and less concentrated. Luxury bread is more “real” – it’s brown, it’s wholegrain, it’s seeded and luxury juice is cloudy, filled with sediment and natural colour.
I feel it’s not enough to tell your drinkers that your product is natural and organic, they need to instinctively understand it from the look and taste of your liquid.
That’s how Kaveri was born I guess, I didn’t really know where it was going when I started cold-pressing juices in my kitchen, but I knew I wanted to create something that looked and tasted completely natural.
"Our first vodka is made with 100% organic, Peruvian, cold-pressed ginger, basil and lime leaf. It’s bursting with natural flavour. We very lightly filter, so it’s filled with this beautiful ginger sediment that gives us our natural zing and fire. We wanted to ensure that everything about Kaveri, from our bottle to the look of the spirit, to the taste, immediately communicates “natural” to the consumer."
What are your favourite things about your job?
It’s hard to choose! Top of the list is watching people order a second Kaveri cocktail or a new client re-ordering a case. That’s the real acid test as to whether you’ve made something that delights your drinker, which is what we’re trying to do at the end of the day.
Secondly, unlocking consumer insight. I’ve always enjoyed learning and I reckon all start-up founders are searching for that holy grail of really understanding their customers and category. That understanding translates to confidence, and confidence is happiness. So those moments when you unlock true customer insight are so valuable to me, they result in more clarity and purpose.
I also really enjoy the creative elements of the job – anything to do with design is always super fun.
I’ve always enjoyed learning and I reckon all start-up founders are searching for that holy grail of really understanding their customers and category.
·Kaveri has been featured globally in Nobu, Four Seasons & Banyan Tree. Can you tell us your secret to success?
There’s still a long way to go, but I’ve found it’s important to be very selective with the accounts you approach by really focusing on the accounts where there’s a good fit with your product and you’re really going to add value to the venue/retailer’s offering. It’s got to be a win-win.
How important was it to you when creating Kaveri Vodka to ensure the ginger was 100% organic? Why is that?
It’s critical to the product. Our ginger has to be of the highest quality and cold-pressed!
90% of ginger used in the market is Chinese. However, the organic Peruvian Ginger that we use is 2.5x higher in the natural compound Gingerol, which gives ginger its zing and fire.
What’s more, conventional juicing creates heat from the blades, which in turn breaks down Gingerols, so we have to cold-press our ginger to ensure we retain all that natural zing and fire! You really can taste the difference.
Tell us your favourite way to enjoy Kaveri vodka.
As we’ve just gone through winter, I’ve really got into our Honey Lime Ginger (“HLG”) Winter Warmer. It’s literally honey, lime and ginger (the ginger being Kaveri) mixed with hot water. It’s comforting and tastes so beautifully natural as if you’ve just juiced up some fresh ginger in your kitchen!
·What can we expect next for Kaveri?
New blends and updated packaging! The first product is 100% organic ginger focused and we’re working on bringing some new blends to market. We’re also upgrading our packaging to look even more apothecary and make pouring easier. I won’t say much more than that.
Thanks for chatting with us, Varun!
Thanks for all the great questions!
I’m also always open to a chat with fellow industry professionals more generally. Advice and mentorship are always welcome. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on LinkedIn or the email address above for whatever reason.
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