Sharan, it took you over 2 years and 27 trials to finally arrive at the perfected liquid profile which you launched as Van Sha. Can you tell us why it took so long to create?
Sharan: “Two years for a new to world innovation isn’t that long! I didn’t want to mimic an existing alcoholic spirit – for me it was important to create a delicious non-alcoholic spirit that had the characteristics of spirits such as complexity, layers, and depth to deliver a long finish. I was keen to ensure I developed something special to make for an inclusive and sensory drinking experience.”
Cordelia: Van Sha is…. a unique non-alcoholic dark ‘sugar free’ spirit that is a real side by side choice to alcoholic spirits, so the team were keen to celebrate the care and attention that reflected what Sharan had put in – just one example of this was the incorporation of ‘Aromatic Spice No.27’ on the label because this was the actual number of trials it took to Sharan to perfect it.
Innovation sits at the very heart of this brand; we know this to be true from our partnership with you. Why was it so important to deliver ‘a new choice’ rather than a ‘traditional mimic alternative’ to the already growing no and low category?
Sharan: “Why be an alternative and try and fit in a box when you can be a choice and break the mould?” VAN SHA is a unique spirit in the world of non-alcoholic spirits, it is not trying to be an alternative or imitate the taste of rum, whisky, or brandy. It does however have the layered and complex characteristics of typical dark spirits that have depth and length and so is suitable for a lot of your dark spirit cocktails.”
Cordelia: ‘Our Cowan team reviewed the ‘sea of me-too gin bottles on the shelves’ there were no real dark spirit alternatives available at the time. It was here that we felt Sharan had the chance to utilise the semiotics and language of the dark spirits category to educate consumers about the product and how it should be drunk whilst also reflecting the premium nature of the liquid.’
Sharan, it became clear to us that your vision for Van Sha was essentially to cater to ‘yourself’ – a non-drinker seeking a more sophisticated choice at a time when options were limiting. Can you further talk about who Van Sha will appeal to?
Sharan: “Yes, absolutely, the consumer vision for Van Sha was a to cater to me as a non-drinker. For years I felt that I didn’t have a seat at the ‘adult’s’ table, because the options for me at the time were only mocktails and soft drinks. I wanted to create a table of my own! I wanted to create an indulgent, discerning drink that that could be drunk on its own but also mixed into a cocktail.”
“I like to think we are catering to the ‘flexitarians’ of the drink’s world – The moderators if you will – they are our biggest consumers. Anything that you develop for them that’s a little bit more sophisticated – they will love, they appreciate craft, and they are willing to pay for it, but they are also the hardest to impress!”
Cordelia: ‘Consumer insight is telling us that Millennials and Gen X are making more conscious choices in the health and wellness space. It was therefore important that we were not only able to shout that we were different but also convey a level of credibility in an understandable execution that reflected the complex nature of this new non-alcoholic spirit. Here we chose to use beautiful, detailed graphics that semitonically reflected the broader category to appeal to this discerning foodie connoisseur.’
As an entrepreneur with a clear vision, how did you find partnering with the team at Cowan? What were the biggest challenges in the brand development of Van Sha?
Sharan: “When Cowan and I collaborated, they really pushed me as a founder on several aspects of the brands genesis – but in the main they were really locked on the borrowing from the spirit category in terms of language and visual references.”
Cordelia: ‘To ensure consumers knew how to drink Van Sha from the outset, the brand needed to behave and act like a Spirit.’
Sharan: “Yes absolutely, it was the right approach because this was a drink that was very much for after 5pm consumption moments. For example, on the bottle Cowan highlight ‘Spice blend’ and ‘Craft distilled’ all typical borrowed language from both the whiskey and rum categories respectively.
Essentially, we are following the same processes that they use in terms of maceration and distillation therefore, Van Sha has the right to use them.”
What role does design, and visual identity play in building consumer understanding of this new evolving category?
Sharan: “I think design plays a huge role in helping consumers to understand the category. When I first walked into Cowan, the only thing that I knew I wanted was a ruby red bottle. At Cowan I really did have the best team around me, and they quickly understood my vision. For me – creating an innovative and unique non-alcoholic spirit, it was important that they really appreciated the world and occasion VAN SHA was going to live in – and understood that it was targeting an audience that was a non-drinker like me.
Sharan: “Cowan developed the brand world and positioning which evolved organically through our working partnership. Whilst I wanted to tell my story as a founder looking for a solution for my own concerns – it was Cowan that helped to bring to bear the heritage aspect of my journey, connecting the spice ingredient’s back to my travels in India and summers spent in my family’s spice grove in the Punjab.
Sharan: “They really managed to capture the vibrance of India but in a very modern and contemporary way.”
Cordelia: ‘When creating new to world brands, that are helping to invent new categories —you have to balance the familiar with the exciting; to maintain equities that meaningfully connect people to the brand, while also determining how best to evolve them into a category leader for today’s new consumers.’
What’s next for Van Sha Spirits?
Sharan: “We want to be an appreciated player here in the Netherlands, where Van Sha was born. We have successfully launched in the retail here and now there is real focus on the NL on-trade.”
“This year, 2023 we hope to launch in the UK, which is super exciting and I’m travelling to London in a few weeks’ time to meet distributors. Also, our website will go live imminently allowing us greater reach from online sales.”
“North America is also an interesting market for us – we have done some preliminary research and the unique flavour profile has been well received with American audiences who are actively seeking sensory experiences in nose and taste as well as in ‘active ingredient’s’.”