Thursday, April 24, 2008

"New tequila packs a piquant punch"

(Published [in part] April 19, 2008 in the Guadalajara Reporter)

The Jalisco company Tequila La Cofradia has found a successful and rapidly growing business opportunity in the form of a unique “chili peppered-cured” tequila called Agave Loco, containing the combined flavors of six chilis. The new investment, in partnership with a Chicago wine and spirits distributor, is in step with several other tequileras hoping to boost foreign enterprise in the form of distinctive liquors.

A bottle of Agave Loco is sold exclusively to the United States with a retail price of 20 dollars, according to La Cofradia’s general director Carlos Hernandez.

“The idea came from some Americans that came to Guadalajara and demonstrated their project, and developed it with us,” Hernandez reported to El Mural. The first order of 2,200 cases was exported to the U.S. last month, and will be sold by various retailers in May.

Tom Maas, Agave Loco’s brand owner who has 30 years in the wine and spirits business in connection with Jim Beam, was discussing tequila among friends when the idea came up.

“We were at a private home and the story came up as we were talking about tequila in the old days, how it used to be made. There’s a story that people used to store peppers in tequila.”

Agave Loco’s website cites the “legend” of a man who finds a jar of chilis in his grandmother’s home, pickled in this fashion. The chilis were delicious and so was the leftover tequila, which was found to be smoother than its un-spiced derivation. El Torito, a traditional drink from Guerrero, is a version of this style, consisting of green chili, onion, tomatoes and cheese soaked in mezcal and vinegar.

Agave Loco’s own formula is based on this tequila plus hot chili concept. Pepper-curing, says the company, reduces the “harsh alcohol burn” one experiences with a normal tequila, leaving only the aftertaste of jalapeƱo and serrano peppers, as well as a little heat.

“It’s sweet, with the spicyness of medium salsa,” says Maas, who adds that the tequila makes a tasty margarita.

Agave Loco will be promoted intensely in liquor showcases throughout the U.S. to establish its position on the market. The spicy drink has been well-received so far thanks to successful marketing strategies, reports Hernandez.

Tequila Patron and Tequila Herradura are also establishing their standing in the U.S. market. Hernandez noted that establishing a new brand can turn around a five- to six-million dollar profit in the first year, but can expect to sell around 100 million dollars of product in the future once the company gains a stronghold. Many American entrepreneurs see already-established tequileras as a reliable business venture and are investing increasingly.

La Cofradia’s business will expand in Russia by 400%, according to Hernandez, where sales have been consistent in past years. Plans are also in order to export tequila to India in bulk, where it will there be bottled and distributed. He explains the measure is used to circumvent protective tariffs imposed on shipping pre-bottled tequila, a practice whisky and beer companies already follow.

Maas says that Agave Loco will soon look for distribution in Mexico. “It’s the only kind of its type, and we really feel it’s going to be tremendous.”