Sailing on Nostalgia, Paper Boat eyes 160% growth

  • Kalyan Subramani, Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
  • Updated: May 02, 2016 12:23 IST
Neeraj Kakkar, CEO of Hector Beverages that produces Paper Boat drinks. (HT Archive)

It was during a conversation with his partners Suhas Misra, Neeraj Biyani and James Nuttall over home-made aam panna — a thirst-quencher made from raw mangoes — that Neeraj Kakkar, the CEO of Gurgaon-based Hector Beverages, had an inspiration to make Paper Boat drinks. No wonder that Kakkar says more than half of Paper Boat’s drinks is from the heart.

Kakkar, a former Coca-Cola employee, founded Hector Beverages in 2010, along with two of his colleagues at the US-based company, Suhas Misra and Neeraj Biyani, and Wharton University batchmate, James Nuttall. The company had launched energy drink, Tzinga, but the sales were moderate.

And then the four of them decided to launch Paper Boat in 2013. The same year, Suhas Misra and James Nuttall quit the company.

Sold in sleek and squashy bottles — Paper Boat drinks are available in a number of variants — from aam paana and jal jeera (cumin water) to kokum (mangosteen juice) and neer more (Tamland’s chaas). There’s also chilli guava, golgappe and panakam.

But Kakkar is not going to produce anymore of this south Indian jaggery and dry ginger-based “temple drink”, once summer come to pass this year.

Spoiler Alert! Next summer, Paper Boat will offer the panakam in three variants to consumers in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, each with its own unique flavour.

In some ways, it is also the DNA of Paper Boat — to seek and nail recipes that can live up to its tagline: Drinks and Memories. The company has some 40-odd panelists, comprising chefs from star hotels to moms and grand-moms, who share and tick-off recipes that live up to traditional taste buds.

However, it’s a long-drawn process. Any given flavour takes up to 18 months — from ideation to rolling out the final product — and no less than `70 lakh to `1 crore in development cost.

Discovering original recipes in many cases comes from the company’s employees — informally called ‘protectors’ of the recipe.

This inside-out approach to developing new flavours has worked well for Paper Boat, but also had its share of disasters. In 2014, the company tried its hand at sattu, a chickpea-based drink from Bihar. It was launched on IndiGo flights, but the taste did not go well, and customers started to demand their money back. For kanji, Kakkar and his team could not find sufficient volume of purple carrot needed to make it to make the drink, which had its origins in Haryana. A trip to Turkey helped in bringing the seeds for the purple carrot, and a deal with a farmer in Tamil Nadu to grow it for the company saved the day for Paper Boat.

Kakkar plans to release one new flavour of Paper Boat every month in 2016. It is April, and four new flavours are already in the market

And he has more reasons to smile. The company has already raised close to `250 crore in funds from a clutch of investors, including the likes of Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy. It is giving century-plus old food players, such as, Dabur, tough competition in the traditional drinks market. In fact, Dabur recently launched its Hajmola Yoodley brand in a packaging similar to Paper Boat.

Kakkar is eyeing a 160% growth in 2016-17 over the previous fiscal. And there’s a tremendous oppurtunity, considering the $5.2-billion size of the Indian non-alcoholic beverages market.

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