Feni’s elevation to heritage
spirit is left Goans in high-spirits, but sobering thought is stakeholders
getting benefitted from the new up-market status, says Shoma Patnaik
Goa Budget 2016-17 had cheering
news for Feni lovers. The alcoholic beverage drunk from time immemorial in
homes, bars and also sold across the counter was declared as ‘heritage spirit
of Goa’ by the Chief Minister. Legislators across party lines collectively
approved of it. For a change there was no crib against the announcement with
MLAs calling it a good idea. Feni must get the respect it deserves, they said.
Feni for sure can do with a
boost. A popular drink it is considered much more than an alcoholic beverage
among locals who drink it for the punch and also for medicinal reasons. But
according to observers Feni is losing its strength vis-à-vis other hard drinks.
Competition from IMFL and beer is nearly flattening it out in the market.
Ground level check reveals that
Feni intake is a small segment of hard drinks consumed by tourists who comprise
a major chunk of buyers. They are imbibing little quantities of it and prefer
other drinks. Future outlook is worrisome as competition from IMFL, wines, is expected
to hot up. It is an unfortunate trend when Feni is a traditional drink and
strongly identified with Goan culture, says a Panjim shopkeeper.
Feni is an integral part of the
local landscape. It is drunk often by residents and stakeholders are in villages
and interiors. Stakeholders constitute tiny, cottage industry 2,500 distillers
spread out in cashew plantation areas. Other stakeholders are farmers,
render’s, bottlers, retailers, etc. For participants in the industry the
announcement of Feni as ‘heritage spirit’ is an important milestone. It is the
second important development after the drink got Geographical Indication (GI)
in February 27 2009.
The GI was initiated by couple of
distillers and the department of science and technology. Getting it was an
arduous process and stakeholders are sure that getting Feni established as an
Indian heritage drink will be another difficult progression. The heritage drink
status will remove the country liquor tag from Feni and permit free sale within
the country, says Mac Vaz, president, All Goa Feni Distillers and Bottlers
Association. Country liquor is not a nice description of a drink in India as
drinkers flinch from it, adds Vaz.
According to Gurudut Bhakta,
secretary of the association, “having Feni notified as heritage is good thing
because it gives recognition, respect and credibility to the drink.” Producers
will be enthused to make good quality Feni and popularize the drink, says
Bhakta. Distiller Narahari Halarnkar, Valpoi is hopeful that post heritage drink
things will improve for the medium sized distillers like him who are
traditionally involved in Feni distilling.
In Goa there are two types of
Feni. The one prepared from toddy or coconut sap is palm feni while the other
is cashew Feni prepared from the juice of the cashew apple. While distillation
of cashew Feni is seasonal (it is two months) production of palm feni is
throughout the year. Among the two it is cashew Feni that is considered the
original and the unique USP of Goa- a cashew growing state. The government is
trying to get GI for palm feni too and get it called a heritage drink too. The
GI status, according to a distiller, has not been leveraged by the government.
Feni is the first alcoholic drink in India to be GI registered but yet not many
know of it, he says. The benefits of GI are important as it prevents
unauthorized use of Feni name by other states and it also encourages exports.
At present exports of Feni is in
miniscule quantities and to countries like US and Europe. But it is a significant
achievement by two-three distillers, considering the lack luster government
support for it.
It is possible to increase Feni’s
popularity among outsider tourists, according to stakeholders who point out
that all that is needed is strong marketing and image building. The smell and
unique taste of Feni needs to be its USP like how it is become in export
market, says Vaz whose company exports Lembranca brand Feni overseas.
Hygiene, modernization of the
distilling process are areas that the industry needs to work on, says Bhakta.
While across the board opinion from stakeholders is crack-down on the spurious
quality Feni being sold in the market. It is the most important reason for
tourists shying away from Feni as they are the ones most likely to be cheated
with fake products, say stakeholders.
To address the issues affecting
the Feni industry, the government is set up a committee and will soon come up
with Feni Policy. The policy will include standardization of production,
packaging, fair price control, mechanism, promotion, marketing and research.
The whole idea is to promote Feni as Tequila and Scotch Whisky that are
geographical products. It is going to be a long shot effort and fingers are
crossed on the success as Goan Feni’s tradition links needs to be protected for
The Tequila takeaway
Feni makers must take heart from
Tequila the oldest distilled spirit of Mexico that has withstood history and is
highly popular. Tequila did not start out as a hit party drink. Its origins are
really ancient. It is an indigenous fermented drink made out of the sap of the
agave plant. The beginning of Tequila was simple and drunk by common folks. But
today Tequila is as respected by bartenders as bourbon and Scotch. The drink
has solid branding and brings fame to Mexico. It also fetches substantial
revenues to the Mexican government.
Tequila is recognized as a
Mexican origin product in more than 40 countries. It is protected through NAFTA
in Canada and the United States, through bilateral agreements with individual
countries such as Japan and Israel. It is an intellectual property term and a
regional specific name for a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant,
primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila. Mexican laws state that
tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities
in the states. Distillers have to abide by strict set of rules. They have to
ensure that the bottles are made in the correct location, with correct
ingredients and aged for the right period. It is also illegal for other
countries to produce or bottle their own tequila. It was country liquor in the
past but today tequila is considered a classy drink. It is mixed in cocktails
and drunk in posh surroundings.
The process of Feni’s acceptance
as heritage drink
There are hardly any heritage
drinks in India and Rajasthan is perhaps the only state with old alcoholic
liqueurs founded by Maharajas. These liqueurs are recognized by the government
as heritage drinks. However production of the liqueurs is by the Rajasthan
government and not many tourists know of them. Hopes are high in Goa that
Feni’s recent classification as a heritage drink will garner publicity and
increase its sale.
However after being notified as heritage
drink there are still many stages for Feni to get accepted by other states as a
heritage drink and allowed entry through borders. At present Feni’s movement
across the country is not allowed because it is considered country liquor. The
state excise department not only has to get Feni accessed to other markets but
it also has to ensure that states honour the GI status of the drink. There are
distillers in Karnataka who are fermenting cashew juice and calling it Feni.
According to Menino D’Souza, excise
commissioner, the task of getting Feni accepted as a heritage drink will
commence soon. If states can honor foreign drinks such as tequila and scotch,
there is no reason why they would not do it for Goa, he says.