Interview with Mr Ganesh Iyer, India’s 1st Water Sommelier and Managing Partner Zero Percent India Pvt Ltd
Meet Mr. Ganesh Iyer, India’s trailblazing water connoisseur. As the country’s first and only certified water sommelier, he has played a pivotal role in introducing a range of renowned beverage brands to the Indian market.
With over two decades of experience in the water industry, Mr. Iyer’s knowledge extends far beyond ordinary tap water.
His technical support and sensory training have equipped him to discern the distinct characteristics of various water types.
Whether it’s deciphering their origins, compositions, or nutritional benefits, Mr. Iyer’s ‘Water Sommelier’ accreditation offers a unique understanding of the nuanced properties of water.
Mr. Iyer’s entrepreneurial spirit has driven him to break into untapped markets and introduce entirely new categories, such as premium glass-bottled mineral water.
His visionary leadership has transformed once-unknown brands into household names. Since its launch in 2012, he has successfully positioned VEEN as the go-to natural mineral water in glass bottles in India, leveraging his brand-building, sales, and marketing acumen.
When he’s not shaping the beverage industry, you might find him honing his backhand on the tennis court, a testament to his unwavering dedication and pursuit of excellence.
Tell us a little about yourself
Ganesh Iyer: I am a Commerce Graduate with acute interest in beverages that includes alcoholic and non alcoholic and I specialize in understanding of Water amongst all the beverages.
My core expertise has been sales and brand management with HoReCa as a channel and I have been part of this channel since the late 90’s
Can you tell us about VEEN India and how you became a water sommelier?
Ganesh Iyer: VEEN foray’s into the Indian Market began in 2012 as India’s First Natural Mineral Water in Premium Glass Packaging and since then for a decade now it has held its position as the Market Leader in its category and predominantly being a HoReCa ( Hotels , Restaurants & Caterers) Player.
However looking at the way the market has evolved or is continuously changing post pandemic times , VEEN as a brand is now open to explore retail, ecommerce route to ensure that patrons are able to access VEEN either within the comforts of their homes or at their neighbourhood stores.
For now we cater to approximately 850 plus hotels & restaurants plus a sizeable HNI base in the form D2C in the Indian subcontinent.
Wine sommeliers have been around for a while but with the emergence of the fine water category and the growth of the fine water industry, it became necessary to have qualified individuals who can educate, train and speak about the category especially in the culinary environment.
A water sommelier is someone who is able to detect, recognize and differentiate different types of natural waters based on their different natural characteristics such as minerality, carbonation, vintage, hardness, orientation, virginality, hardness and various other elements.
A water sommelier has extensively trained on the subject and basis his/her expertise can suggest on how to pair different waters with different cuisines, wines & spirits in the culinary environment.
Kindly brief us about your company, its specialization, and the services that it offers?
Ganesh Iyer: VEEN nicknamed as “ Michelin Star “ Water has made its presence felt across the globe in 17 plus countries over the last 17 years of its existence having two remote sources of spring water.
One in Lapland , Finland and one in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan also known as the last Shangri-La.
The spring water source in Bhutan caters to the Indian subcontinent and we bottle VEEN still ( Natural Mineral Water) and VEEN Classic ( Sparkling Mineral Water) in two sizes of 660ml and 330ml.
They are available in close to 30 plus cities that caters to 800 plus luxury and premium hotels and restaurants . Apart from this the leading business houses have been patronizing VEEN since 2012.
What are the key characteristics that you look for when evaluating different types of water?
Ganesh Iyer: The key characteristics are ( A) Vintage ( B ) Terrior – a French Term used to describe the environment or the soil of the place ( C) Hardness ( D) pH level ( E) TDS – Totally Dissolved Solids. Having said that no water is alike. Each spring water source is unique given its composition .
How do you educate customers about the differences between different types of water?
Ganesh Iyer: There’s one primary and driving attribute for VEEN to have a dominant and leadership position in the Indian Market is that of Training and Education. VEEN has for the past decade or so been consistently imparting and creating awareness about various types of waters and its application in not just the culinary world but also in day today life.
This training and education is done at all levels at hotels and restaurants. Apart from this we have undertaken sessions and continue to do so for HNIs on the importance of Fine Waters in their lives.
How do you source different types of water for your tastings and what criteria do you use when selecting them?
Ganesh Iyer: Since every water is unique on account of its mineral composition and other factors, the sourcing of the same is done based on the need of the module.
For a curated meal the water pairing is done is coordination with the chef to make sure that the waters served during the curated meal complements the experience.
In case of a Water paired event with brown spirits, its critical to understand the bottling process of the said spirit and the place and origin of the distillery to understand the type of water used in processing the spirit basis which a water can be paired .
Can you walk us through a typical water tasting experience and what customers can expect
Ganesh Iyer: At the elementary level I would submit that the similarities are akin to that of a wine tasting process which is your ( A) Sight ( B) Smell ( C) Taste + Haptic Sensations.
However the similarity ends here. In the Wine tasting eco system, flavours and tastes are in a common understanding or taste space.
Its easier to relate to a vanilla or a gooseberry flavour as compared to detect the level of magnesium or potassium or silica in a mineral water.
So there are a whole range of off flavours in water which are helpful and detrimental in defining the taste of the water.
In some cases the mineral content of a said water can also help in determining the taste of the water. For eg waters with low mineral composition are likely to have a bitter taste.
But this bitterness should not be equated with traditional bitterness. They are best described as haptic bitterness.
Since the taste profile is so nuanced you can experience the difference only when one consumes water that is entirely in contract taste profile as that of the earlier one.
How do you stay up to date on new trends and developments in the water industry?
Ganesh Iyer: I am an active member of the World Water Sommeliers Association wherein amongst other works , there is a constant exchange of dialogues, ideas , new products launches in the water category . This exchange happens both at virtual level and face to face meetings.
What do you see as the biggest misconception about water and how do you work to correct it?
Ganesh Iyer: The biggest misconception about Water is something which has been drilled through our school text books for decades and decades is that “ Water is tasteless, colourless and odourless.
However water Has Taste, Has Colour and Has Odour as well. The course correction is done through the training and education programmes conducted for hoteliers , restaurateurs , and HNIs
How do you see the role of water sommeliers evolving in the future and what impact do you think they will have on the industry as a whole?
Ganesh Iyer: The hospitality world and more categorically the culinary world has opened up thanks to the global exposure.
Today some of the finest restaurants in india regularly find mention in the leading culinary table forums.
Given this premise, and the kind of innovation that we are witnessing specifically in the beverage arena in India wherein every month there’s a new brand of either white or brown spirits, fine dines and stand alone restaurants will sooner or later have water sommeliers in tandem with wine sommeliers to explain discerning audience the nuances of spirits , its pairing and finally with water because remember close to 85% of any beverage is water
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in becoming a water sommeRlier?
Ganesh Iyer: It’s definitely not for the faint hearted because in a country as diverse as ours and more so where Water as a resource is considered to be free despite its rampant misuse, it will take sooner or later for the fine dines wake up to the new tribe of water sommeliers.
What are your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ganesh Iyer: There are a few underlying factors according to me are critical and detrimental to one’s success in life. ( A) Persistence ( B) Perseverance and finally the Grit required to do so.
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