How to stock and sell tequila, mezcal and other Mexican spirits

13 October 2023, 07:00 AM
  • Tequila has shed its stereotype as the ‘nights out’ drink and is having a renaissance as a sophisticated sipping spirit. We explore how to cash in on the trend, and ask experts where it’s going next
How to stock and sell tequila, mezcal and other Mexican spirits

It wasn’t long ago that Mexican food and drink were a bit of an unknown to the average Brit. But in recent years, it has started making an impact in the UK, with restaurants and bars like KOL, Hacha, Doña and Cavita springing up in London to elevate the perception of Mexican cuisine.

This growing awareness has coincided with the rise of cocktail culture in the UK, creating a perfect environment for budding interest in spirits made from the country’s agave plant, including tequila and mezcal, but also raicilla, bacanora and sotol.

“Tequila has gone from a party spirit to a sophisticated sipping serve, explains Holly Browne, search and insight manager at Distill Ventures. “The pandemic drove curiosity, and with it, the margarita became a popular cocktail to make at home. It is now the number one cocktail in the UK according to an on-trade report from CGA. Alongside this growing at-home interest in the category, tequila and mezcal are more visible in bars and on cocktail menus than ever before.”

The steady rise of quality tequila and the popularity of the Paloma cocktail over the past summer (a delicious blend of tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice and agave nectar) have surely given Mexican drinks a top spot at the table.

Why agave spirits are so popular

For many years, gin was the go-to spirit in the UK, but as its shine fades, new spirits are emerging to take its place as the next big thing. Tom Bishop, co-founder of El Rayo Tequila, believes tequila and other agave spirits fit the natural and botanical profile of gin, while offering a greater depth of flavour, “which is an interesting proposition for the gin drinkers of yesterday,” he says. 

Globally, agave spirits are driving sales, according to drinks analysts IWSR. From 2021 to 2022, sales grew 13% by volume. While this was largely driven by the US market, where tequila is set to overtake vodka this year as the top-selling spirit by value, awareness is increasingly growing in the UK.

“Mexican spirits’ popularity in the UK reflect a global trend driven by increased cultural exploration due to globalisation,” Max Davies-Gilbert, co-founder of Tequila Enemigo, says. “The allure of Mexico’s rich history and cuisine has enhanced this interest.” Deano Moncrieffe, founder of Mirror Margarita and the UK’s first specialist agave venue, Hacha, agrees that Mexico’s “great vibrancy” has managed to “penetrate popular culture” here in the UK.

Tequila is similarly associated with “the ‘lift my spirits’ perception,” Holly says. “It’s a drink suited to high-tempo occasions and attracts consumers seeking new flavours and options beyond gin and vodka.”

A premium tipple

As the appeal of agave spirits like tequila and mezcal grows, so does the demand for premium brands. In the UK, IWSR’s research shows a third of alcohol drinkers say they would rather treat themselves to a better-quality drink at home than go out. 

Gabriela Moncada, agave ambassador at Speciality Brands, agrees. “Consumers are increasingly looking for artisanal products with strong craft credentials, provenance, and history.”

“Mexican spirits, particularly tequila and mezcal, embody centuries-old traditions that resonate with consumers seeking genuine and unique experiences,” adds Sukhvinder Javeed, founder of SPHYNX Tequila. “In a world flooded with mass-produced products, there’s an undeniable allure in sipping a spirit that tells a story of time-honoured techniques and a deep connection to the land.”

Premium and ultra-luxury brands, she says, are changing perceptions of tequila as “merely a party shooter”.

Mike Dolan, who co-founded Mijenta Tequila after leaving his role as CEO of Bacardi, believes the desire for more premium agave spirits is a natural progression of the consumer journey. “What I’ve seen is that people tend to follow a certain trajectory as they begin to discover and learn about new spirits. They’ll find something that intrigues them, and then as they explore more deeply, they’ll look for better and better versions within the category.

“This happened, for instance with whisky and bourbon,” he says, with consumers moving from entry-level drinks to single malts then rare or ‘cult’ bottles and special releases. This has happened with tequila, and he believes mezcal is next. “By nature, mezcal is small batch, it’s more artisanal and offers a vast array of taste profiles driven by different species of agave. And people are drawn to the diversity of aromas and flavours that different producers from different regions using different agaves can offer,” Mike says.

“The principle here is that once consumers become interested, they’re continuously looking for something that is more refined, more authentic, more complex, and really seek it out deliberately.”

Tips for selling agave spirits

If you think tequila or mezcal could be a hit in your shop but you’re not sure where to start, experts share their tips and tricks for growing your sales below.

Education is key

Agave spirits may be intimidating for those with little experience in this area, so educating customers is important if you want your sales to sizzle. “The advice I would give is to get in touch with your suppliers; request samples or arrange tastings for your team and customers,” says Gabriela. “I think you will be surprised to see how much interest there is within the industry for this kind of education.”

Sukhvinder agrees that investing in staff training is a must. “Customers often rely on recommendations from experts, so having staff who can provide information on the history, production methods, and flavour profiles of Mexican spirits can make a significant impact,” she says.

Consider your in-store set-up

“Store owners should look to merchandise tequila between global brands and more artisanal products,” Gabriela says. If you stock multiple mezcals, she says they should also be presented by style to support consumers’ understanding of the category.

“Cocktail components should also be grouped together so they are easily available and encourage bundle purchasing,” she adds.

Suggest pairings and recipes

“The most valuable tool to educate consumers is liquid on lips and by showing consumers that tequila can be served in simple, long drinks at home,” Tom says. “It’s not just a spirit that you shot before you go out or that you have to put into a fancy cocktail, but showing them it goes great in a simple serve like the tequila and tonic that can be enjoyed easily at home and is a refreshing change to your usual G&T or glass of wine.” 

Teaching customers how to recreate Margaritas or Palomas at home through cocktail recipe cards can also help, as do food pairing suggestions, Gabriela says.

Choose your stock wisely

Holly suggests going beyond traditional brands to list upcoming, lifestyle-driven products that resonate with younger audiences. “List women-owned tequila brands!” she adds. “Women control the lion’s share of consumer spending, so that’s something to bear in mind.”

If you want to go big on agave spirits and become the go-to stockist in your area, try offering a well-curated selection to show off the diversity of flavours and styles available. “In my opinion agave is the most terroir-specific category in global spirits,” Deano says. “Having a blanco, reposado and anejo available for tequila and at least three different plant varieties of mezcal is a good start.”

Get seasonal

“Using key celebrations such as Day of the Dead or Margarita Day as a hook is also a great way to raise awareness, not just for the category, but also tapping into the rich culture and history of this country,” Gabriela says.

Host an event

“This hands-on experience allows customers to explore the flavours and nuances of tequila and mezcal, fostering a deeper appreciation for these spirits,” says Sukhvinder.

Partner with local experts

“Collaborate with local restaurants or chefs to organize pairing events,” suggests Max. “Demonstrating how tequila or mezcal can complement different foods can elevate the drinking experience – it’s an extraordinarily versatile beverage, with more tasting notes than wine.”

Sukhvinder suggest even collaborating with local mixologists to create a signature cocktail for your store.

Tell a story

“Emphasise the heritage and craftsmanship behind the brands you carry,” Sukhvinder says. “Share the stories of the distilleries, the families behind them, and the regions where the spirits are made. This narrative adds a layer of intrigue that can captivate customers.”

To boost sales, Clark Crown, bar manager at luxury Mexican fusion restaurant Chayote in London, believes retailers must educate people about Mexican spirits in the same way they talk about and advise on wine. “We need to get them excited about and interested in these fascinating spirits and their Mexican heritage.”

Will the Mexican spirits trend continue?

Experts believe the trend for agave spirits has much more room to grow. New brands are emerging all the time: as Holly points out, 25% of the top 40 tequila brands currently on Amazon didn’t exist three years ago.

Plus, most consumers are only just learning about mezcal. “Tequila is still the leader, but mezcal has the potential just to be as big as tequila. Personally, mezcal is my favourite spirit,” Clark says. “Many tequila distilleries are leading the way in sustainability, as well, which will help the industry to grow even further as the farms will be more healthy, and sustainability is rightly very attractive to consumers.”

Deano predicts a wider variety of agave spirits will become available in the UK market, and Gabriela agrees. “As consumers become more educated and curious, they are learning about agave spirits beyond tequila and mezcal. This includes sotol and raicilla, as well as other distillates made from fruits and sugarcane. These spirits are produced differently across various regions of Mexico, which with its incredibly vast biodiversity and expansive terrain allowing for a wide variety of production techniques and flavours.”

It appears the Mexican spirits trend is only growing, and it poses an opportunity for retailers who want to take the leap. “Independent retailers have a remarkable opportunity to ride this wave by curating their offerings, educating customers, and celebrating the rich heritage of Mexican drinks,” Sukhvinder says. “As we continue to explore the world of tequila and mezcal, the possibilities are as limitless as the agave fields themselves.”

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