“UK demand for tequila has recently grown at around 8%, but even more interesting is the growth for premium (21% growth) and super-premium (13% growth) brands. A lot of brands, ambassadors and bartenders have worked hard on tequila’s image in recent years to get to this point – and it’s clearly working. But what might lead to a bigger tipping point?” That’s the question that Dan Hooper, co-founder of the YesMore drinks marketing agency, looks to answer as he examines just what it is that has made tequila both the go to drink for A list movie stars and the great drinking public.
Intimidated by what drink to order at the coolest bar in town? Well go for tequila and you can’t really go wrong, argues YesMore’s Dan Hooper in his latest monthly column.
Tequila (and its close cousin mezcal) is officially booming across the pond. This year is the first time that Americans will spend more money on mezcal and tequila than they will on US-made whiskeys – the former number two category in spirits in the nation.
The top spot is still held by vodka but by 2023, tequila and mezcal are set to even outsell vodka, which has held the top spot since the 70s.
The uptake in sales hasn’t gone unnoticed with a large number of celebrities rolling out their own brands, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, ‘Breaking Bad’ co-stars Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston; Nick Jonas, Rita Ora, Adam Levine, Justin Timberlake, AC/DC and of course the undisputed king of celebrity tequila Mr Clooney.
So what’s driving this massive growth in the US? I think I can pin it down to a few key reasons.
For starters, it’s a spirit that can be premiumised quite quickly (like whiskey). If you have a favourite brand that also sells an añejo expression then it’s a quick trade-up. This kind of trade-up has been popular throughout the pandemic with people looking for fast and simple ways to treat themselves. The same premiumisation can’t be said for vodka which is a potential reason it could tumble from the top spot.
This ‘trading up’ is about more than just people treating themselves. Consumers are learning that aged tequilas and mezcals can offer the same depth of flavour as an Islay scotch – a massive shift from the category’s previous ‘lemon and salt’ positioning, and the result of many years’ hard work by the sector to shift to this new image.
This classier “alternate serve” not only broadens the demographic of people consuming the drink but also makes it a great option closer to home for scotch fans living in the States. With tequila and mezcal needing to be transported only from neighbouring Mexico and not all the way from Europe, Americans can buy a premium product with a great taste, story and heritage, and can find it more affordable as well.
Many still see tequila and mezcal as being composed of two different categories of drinkers – those who mix more basic brands in cocktails / drink them as shots, and those who sip aged expressions. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing more premium-aged tequila and mezcals in cocktails. People don’t have the same feeling of protection over the liquid as they do with scotch and are more willing to see what mixologists can do with the interesting flavours at play.
So there’s a lot to talk about on why it’s booming in the US. But as we all know, not everything exports to the UK so cleanly. But with many brands like Patron clearly investing in the space in the UK it’s clear some see the potential.
The question of the piece is, could it ever boom in the UK? My honest feeling is yes it could – in fact, it seems to be starting to. UK demand for tequila has recently grown at around 8%, but even more interesting is the growth for premium (21% growth) and super-premium (13% growth) brands. A lot of brands, ambassadors and bartenders have worked hard on tequila’s image in recent years to get to this point – and it’s clearly working. But what might lead to a bigger tipping point?
Coming back to the serve, the same way US drinkers are embracing tequila and mezcal being used for more “than just margaritas” will be essential for its success here in the UK. Sunny margarita season isn’t all that long (sadly) in the UK and margaritas have well-established favourites like the gin and tonic to battle with here.
UK consumers also need to be willing to enjoy the short drink as they do with whisky – with water or ice – as it will also open up thinking of the liquid as a premium option in their “treat repertoire”. If UK consumers only ever think of the product as shots and margaritas it won’t progress or shift at all. There needs to be a reason for people to be willing to consume something so far from home given how much more expensive the product will likely be in the UK.
The growth in premium tequila is also worth mentioning. People are wanting premium simple cocktails they can make at home. So getting creative here and educating your customers on how to use the product in a way that’ll intrigue them is important.
Branding and marketing will play a big part in this shift. Most of us Brits are only ever exposed to tequila as a forfeit, something they just had to get done. But if marketers with a deft hand can create a bottle with luxurious allure, some old barriers can start to be broken down.
So while the short sippable serve will be key to its success a bit of brand ambassadorship never hurt, perhaps Rita Ora can fly the flag for the Brits in this celeb tequila battle. Let’s see.
- You can find out how YesMore works with drinks brands on their marketing, above and below campaigns and social media at its website here.