Varying government regulations across states pose a challenge for the currently small meads industry

By Dr Ashwini Deore, Co-Founder, Cerana Meads

Dr Ashwini Deore, along with co-founder Dr Yoginee Budhkar,  is among the very few entrepreneurs making meads or honey wine in India. It all began as an experiment in their kitchen and turned out to be a sustainable alcoholic beverage startup that is expected to grow by 250 per cent in FY 2023-24. With new and interesting projects in the pipeline that the startup intends to launch in 2024, Dr Ashwini Deore, Co-Founder, Cerana Meads interacted with nuFFOODS Spectrum about the challenges and opportunities in store for the honey wine market in India. Edited excerpts.

What is the status of the Mead beverages market in India? Please comment on the market size, potential, and latest trends in the space?

The meads market is one of the fastest growing verticals within the Indian Alcobev market, with new brands emerging across different pockets of India, all within the past 3 or 4 years. 

Currently, it occupies the Ready to Drink segment of beverages along with seltzers and breezers, which have a steady flow of demand. Most of the meads, currently available in the market, are low-alcohol with fermented honey as a base and flavours added in the form of fruits and spices. These meads are retailed in trendy packaging and at accessible prices, allowing new emissions into Alcobev drinking, that help consumers experiment with different flavours and choose meads as a preferred beverage. 

As a category, mead has great depth and potential as it is a versatile drink, and can be made with different honeys combined with different fruits and spices available locally. Meads can be high or low alcohol. They can be still, carbonated or sparkling; they can be bone dry semi-sweet to desert. Almost a decade ago, we didn’t have a wine-drinking culture in India, but now the landscape has changed. Similarly, the number of gin drinkers has grown tremendously with gin makers mushrooming across the country. Where a mead-drinking culture is concerned, we hope that soon the industry will be able to gather enough momentum to open people’s minds to try some serious high alcohol, complex meads with a lot more to offer. 

At Cerana Meads, our effort is to offer a broad spectrum of meads to our consumers. We have low-alcohol, high-alcohol, dry semi-sweet, floral and fruity meads in our product portfolio. We plan to start an exclusive taproom for our meads in Nashik where enthusiasts can enjoy Cerana meads with a scenic view. We also have plans to expand into different markets in India and a few global markets in the coming financial year. We are constantly developing new mead recipes and foraging for unique honeys that are sustainably and ethically sourced in India.

To comment on the market size will be difficult, at this point, as data is not properly collated and available. There are several breweries and other fruit wineries that are also making meads as a part of their product portfolios and these numbers are very scattered. Having said that, I can say with confidence that it is the fastest growing segment as every day new people are approaching us who are interested in starting meaderies of their own in their states.

The assistance from the local and state governments regarding policies related to beekeeping and mead-making is encouraging for us. 

Being a startup, what do you think are the challenges in the Indian mead industry for the new entrants?

Like many alcohol verticals that had their unique challenges when they launched, mead too is seeing its challenges with a lack of awareness. The mead culture is very prominent in several European countries and it is only time till Indians too see this drink as something they could consider. Luckily for us, meads are palatable, can be paired with various Indian cuisines, and are accessibly priced so with the right marketing and distribution mediums, this drink can find takers across the country.

Varying government regulations across states also pose a challenge for the currently small mead industry. Although the government has now started to consider this industry, it will be a while until the excise regulations and other elements are consolidated.

What are the supply chain-related challenges that you face in terms of raw materials and how do you overcome the same?

Like in the wine industry where getting a great quality grape means half the winemakers’ job is done. In the mead industry, getting excellent quality pure honey is key. Beekeeping practices have started improving in India over the past few years yet sourcing the honey which has been ethically collected and is 100 per cent naturally formed is still a challenge. We have tied up with beekeepers and aggregators directly to ensure we get the quality of honey we want. We video monitor the harvest and go a step further to extensively test the honey in accredited labs to ensure purity. The other consideration we ensure is to source produce as locally as possible to preserve its uniqueness and natural qualities. 

Honey is a key ingredient in Mead beverages, are there any quality parameters that you follow to maintain the authenticity of the end product?

Yes, in maintaining the authenticity of our meads, we adhere strictly to quality parameters related to honey extraction and use. We exclusively source honey from the ‘super chamber’ of the bee boxes, where bees store surplus honey. The moisture content in this surplus honey is reduced to the minimum possible by the bees. After this, the cells are then sealed with wax to avoid humidity from the air around them getting absorbed by the honey. This sealing indicates the complete natural formation of honey. This honey is called sealed comb honey. By utilising only sealed comb honey, we avoid artificial moisture removal processes, ensuring the natural flavours remain intact and preserving the subtleties of taste. Honey that hasn’t been sealed requires artificial moisture removal to extend its shelf-life, potentially compromising the delicate flavours and affecting the taste. Moreover, taking honey from the brood portion of the bee box could disturb the bees, so we exclusively harvest from the surplus portion to maintain the hive’s balance and well-being.

To guarantee the authenticity of our end product, we are actively involved in the honey extraction process, either overseeing it personally or monitoring it through video surveillance. This ensures that the honey used in our meads meets our stringent quality standards and retains its natural essence, delivering an authentic and high-quality beverage.

What do you think Indian food regulators should focus on to boost the Indian mead industry? Also, please highlight the regulatory challenges in the space.

Although historically, mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage, it has just entered the official list of recognised Alcobevs very recently. The classification of meads based on alcohol content, ingredients, residual sweetness, or carbonation level is at this moment clubbed along with wines which is very inconvenient for producers as the ingredients used and processed differ in mead making as compared to wines. We have submitted our suggestions to the regulatory body and we are hoping and expecting they will consider those while drafting the new regulations for meads.

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