Globally, water sommeliers have been there for a while but in Asia it is fairly a new term which has been trending for the last five to six years.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is pretentious in a country like India to talk about someone who has an expertise in water tasting, when water itself is scarce for drinking. And this comes from Ganesh Iyer, who is India's first and only water sommelier.
The profession, which has been around for a while globally, derives from sommeliers — experts on wine who handle all aspects of its service in the world of fine dining. Being a water sommeliers is a fairly a new occupation in Asia, but it has been trending for the last five to six years.
“A water sommelier is someone who is able to detect, recognise and differentiate natural mineral water. His ability to differentiate water is based on its different characteristics,”explained Iyer.
“For natural mineral water, it is based on the mineralisation, carbonation level, its vintage level, as to how old the water is, the hardness, the orientation as to where the source is from, what the PH level of the water is,” he added.
When asked why water sommeliers are now in demand Iyer said, “It is in parallel to the emergence of fine water as a category. Ever since the emergence of premium natural mineral water category, it has therefore become necessary for qualified individuals who can speak about the category.”
And this category is seeing a lot of attention from brands. From flavoured natural mineral water to alkaline fulvic mineral water, there are many variants available in this category, so much so that drinking water has become the fastest growing segment in the beverage segment.
According to Iyer, who is also National Sales Director, Indian Subcontinent at Veen Waters, till the 90s, people did not feel that you should pay money to buy water and that water is supposed to be free.
“And that time there was only one brand I think Himalaya and today you have a plethora of options. As and when people keep more travelling they see new developments overseas and they see that there are more healthier options and when they come back to India they look for such options,” he said.
Veen Waters claims the first to be a natural mineral water company in India to package water in glass bottles. The company, which came to India in 2012, doesn’t retail its product and it is available in restaurants and hotels at a price range of Rs 150-Rs 200 for a 660 ml bottle and Rs 100 for 330 ml.
“Now people are understanding that water can be different and not all water is the same,” added Iyer.
That is why the source of the water has become crucial both for brands and consumers.
For example, Veen Waters has found two spring sources. While the Finnish source caters to the European market along with China, the Middle-East and Russia. The second spring, which originates from the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, the product is supplied to India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
One challenge that Iyer faced in growing this business in India was the shift to move towards safer alternate of water, which has been slow in the country.
However, people now expect both health benefits and advanced taste from water.Veen Waters expects to increase its footprint to 60-odd cities by the end of this year and is currently it is present in 35 cities. The company is also planning to get into mixtures like ginger ale tonic water, bitter lemon. "Ginger ale tonic water we plan to launch by the end of the year or early next year", said Iyer.