Everyone’s heard of wine sommeliers, often clad in black and white tuxedos ready to pour a glass of vino for those classy date nights. Few, however, have heard of ‘water sommeliers’. Cue in Ganesh Iyer from Zero Percent Shop, India’s first individual to gain this lesser-known tag. He tells us all about what this means, his mantra to mindfulness, and more. By Bayar Jain
T+L India: Tell us a little bit about Zero Percent Shop and how it came into being.
Ganesh Iyer: Mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. The concept of ‘zero percent’ revolves around this pivot wherein the idea is to translate this concept by offering food and beverage brands on one single platform that can promote mindful consumption, leading to a mindful lifestyle that would make consumers healthier and happier. Currently, there is no single platform available to consumers wherein they can buy and experience brands that have these attributes. This led to the idea of setting up the Zero Percent Shop. The idea is to represent leading brands in categories of zero per cent alcohol, zero per cent dairy, zero per cent pesticides, zero per cent sugar, zero per cent gluten, zero per cent meat, zero per cent microplastic, and fine waters.
T+L India: How do you ensure a mindful way of living through your brand?
Ganesh Iyer: At the elementary level, it’s best to avoid products that are high in sugar, calories, flavours, preservatives, et cetera. It’s important and detrimental to check and read labels in detail when we buy our groceries from supermarkets and [also to] check the quality of the source of these products.
T+L India: What’s your take on the changing landscape of alcohol consumption in India?
Ganesh Iyer: IWSR predicts that, by 2024, there’s going to be a 31 to 32 per cent global shift towards loNo (low and no alcohol brands), primarily on account of health and wellness reasons; and I see no reason why the same cannot happen in India, too. One of the ugly truths that the pandemic has thrown on our face is that, unfortunately, people with compromised immune systems ended up in casualties. A zero per cent lifestyle is the way forward.
T+L India: Can you briefly explain what a ‘water sommelier’ is and how you became India’s first certified water sommelier?
Ganesh Iyer: A ‘water sommelier’ is someone who is able to detect, recognise, and differentiate different types of natural waters based on their different natural characteristics such as minerality, carbonation, vintage, hardness, orientation, virginity, and various other elements. A ‘water sommelier’ is extensively trained on the subject and, basis his/her expertise can suggest how to pair different waters with different cuisines, wines and spirits in the culinary environment.
After having spent close to two decades in the field of alcobev and non-alcobev, and having had the distinction of being part of teams that launched six different brands of natural mineral waters and sparkling waters in India—from the ’90s to now VEEN being the seventh water brand—I believe that it was an opportune time to validate these learnings through Doemens Academy, Munich, Germany, which is rated as one of the best academies to get yourself accredited as a ‘Water Sommelier.’
T+L India: How do you select the brands that are available on your platform?
Ganesh Iyer: We work with small and medium-sized brands and producers whose brand owners we know personally. All the brands follow a philosophy similar to ours—that is, transparency, taking a clean label approach and understanding that this [sustainability] is what consumers want today.
T+L India: How can one embrace a zero-waste lifestyle?
Ganesh Iyer: Follow the five R’s for a zero-waste lifestyle:
- RECYCLE: Properly recycle any plastic, paper, glass or metal that comes into your life. You cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse by researching your state’s recycling laws.
- REUSE: Always find a way to keep an item out of the landfill–by keeping it in great condition, repairing or upcycling it when it breaks.
- ROT: Set up a compost system for your food scraps or find a food scrap drop-off centre, like a farmer’s market or community garden, near your house.
- REFUSE: Avoid single-use plastics and paper products by saying ‘no thank you’; opt for reusables.
- REDUCE: Downsize what you purchase, opting to be more mindful of what you really need.
T+L India: How can one be more mindful while travelling?
Ganesh Iyer: The best way to be mindful is to restrict purchasing anything that is unnecessary. For example, always carry refillable glass or stainless steel water bottles to avoid purchasing plastics. Get registered for carbon footprint credits for all the flight travel that you undertake. Maximise your days of travel so that you can restrict your flights. Eat freshly-made food so as to avoid packaged foods and all the plastic that comes along with them. Most importantly, for your emotional wellbeing, observe all that is happening around you so as to enable you to restrict your responses to unwanted stimulants.
T+L India: What’s next for Zero Percent Shop?
Ganesh Iyer: We are currently focused on the online and e-commerce market, which we believe will drive awareness, education and sales for the ‘Mindful Lifestyle’ category. Maybe [set up] a brick-and-mortar store in the distant future.