Sharing ginger beer goodness

By Rowena Singh

It’s hard to imagine a more refreshing drink option than a cold glass of Ginger Lei’s lemongrass or moli ginger beer, pumped straight from a frosty keg.

You may have tried it at the ROC Market or at the Ginger Café in Suva, or poolside at the Sofitel Resort on Denarau.

Now Ginger Lei’s commitment to adding value to Fijian produce, creating a healthy beverage and staying true to their environmental convictions has seen the company win the regional finals for the Pacific Greenpreneurs Accelerator pitch program sponsored by the Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI). That win will see company co-founder Talei Tora go to Dubai on a study tour and bid for an interest-free loan that could be key to scaling up this fledging business.

Business partners Tora and Yoshiko Wakaniyasi set up Ginger Lei after Tora set out to find ways to satisfy her own craving for ginger beverages.

“I used to like ginger ale, but it got too sweet for me,” says Tora.  Researching alternatives, she came across a ginger beer recipe. 

“That was about six or seven years ago, and I thought I’d try and make it myself. It works out that we have really good Fiji ginger and I decided to use lemon grass as we had a bush next door. It was perfect and turned out delicious. I shared it with my friends, and they said that I should start a business. I shared the idea with other people and then our first break came at the Food Innovation Show at the Australian High Commission in 2020.” 

Ginger Lei’s current customer base includes hotels, cafes, the café they co-own (Ginger Kitchen on the Fiji Museum balcony), and expats and locals. However they are keen to scale up, so they can bring down costs and capture more of the local market.

Environmental sustainability is also at the heart of the business.

“From the very first time we started brewing we decided that we are not going to use plastic,” says Tora. “There are environmental problems using single use plastic or plastic in general and we didn’t want to add to that waste. So, we have always tried to recycle using old beer bottles using proper brewing sanitizer. But that was a high maintenance process, so we decided to use kegs. At events and functions, we only serve via kegs because it’s reusable and we serve in glasses and paper cups preferably from recycled materials.

 “We do a very small batch of plastic bottles for Sofitel but that’s because we see their recycling efforts. They separate their refuse, and these bottles end up at proper recycling places.” 

During her Greenpreneurs pitch,  Tora emphasised the alarming rates of diabetes in Fiji, showcasing her company’s efforts to address these challenges.

“In Fiji, diabetic amputations occur every 8.5 hours. One in three Fijians are diagnosed with diabetes,” Tora reminded participants, highlighting the urgent need for healthier beverage options.

“Ginger Lei is an all-natural, wild-fermented ginger beer, made from all natural Fijian products;  Fijian ginger, raw cane sugar, lemon, lemon grass, guava, and soursop,” explains Tora. 

“Wild fermentation means we make our own yeast culture. So our product becomes a probiotic because of the wild-fermentation process, which means it’s good for the gut and is also low in sugar.”

While Tora and Wakaniyasi have day jobs in communications and marketing respectively,  they say the Covid-19 pandemic showed the need to have something to fall back on.

“When the first wave of COVID hit, I said that we have to do this. We are not out of the woods yet and if there is another crisis and our jobs are affected, we have a small business that we can lean on that will be able to support us,” Tora recalls.

Fiji exports some F$3 million worth of ginger each year, with Australian, American and New Zealand companies all using Fiji ginger in well-known products.

“The Fiji ginger market is big but what needs to happen is the value-adding in country,” says Tora. “People take it overseas and then value add on it and turn it into a beverage and then come and sell it back to us, where we could be doing that ourselves, creating healthier options and also reducing imports.”

As they scale up, Ginger Lei hopes to be able to export to other countries. 

“There already has been interest from around the region from people that we have met who have businesses that would like a carton or two. That would be something we would love to work with as well – just to share some Fijian ginger beer goodness with the region and the world.” 

Facebook: GingerLei Beer Fiji

This article originally appeared in Fiji Traveller Issue 5

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