The trip Tim Warrillow took in 2004 was epic: He flew from London to Nairobi, then hopped a flight to Kigali, then another to Kamembe. From there, he persuaded a taxi driver to take him through rural Rwanda and across the Congolese border. Along the way, he paid off militias armed with rocket launchers and gangs wielding nail-studded boards. Almost 24 hours after leaving his home in west London, he got to his destination, a cinchona plantation in eastern Congo. What was he after? Tree bark.
The bark from the cinchona tree contains quinine, the bitter chemical compound in tonic water that balances the citrus from lemons and limes. As interest in artisanal gin surged, Warrillow had dreamed of creating a lineup of premium mixers. He sought an opportunity to displace giants such as Schweppes, which had sat atop the tonic business for decades, and he saw real quinine from Congo as key to standing out. The fact that most low-end tonic was—and still is—flavored with artificial quinine was perplexing to Warrillow. “When you stop and think that three-quarters of that gin and tonic, at least in the U.K., is tonic, why aren’t more people interested in the tonic water?” says Warrillow, 46, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fevertree Drinks Plc, which today owns Britain’s top brand for tonic.
Since its 2005 launch in the U.K., Fevertree has employed a combination of natural ingredients, sleek packaging, and deft marketing to overtake rivals. The purveyor of mixers branded Fever-Tree is betting a similar playbook—with a twist—will let it replicate its U.K. success in the U.S., the world’s largest spirits market, where a burgeoning cocktail culture has opened the door.
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