From the Vault Aug 12, 2004
Mexico makers want to add fruit to firewater in bid to expand market.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s tequila industry, in pursuit of younger customers, plans to follow other alcohol producers by offering the centuries-old firewater tinged with citrus flavors.
“Young people are drinking flavored products,” said Miguel Aguilar Romo, Mexico’s director for standards at the economy ministry. “We have vodka, we have rum, we have flavored beer. We can’t be left out of this global trend.”
Romo’s office, which sets the rules tequila makers must follow, gave the go-ahead this month to allow fruity tequila starting in January 2004.
“We are not pretending to change our drink — just looking to branch out with new products,” said Eduardo Orendain, head of the National Tequila Industry Chamber, which groups producers.
The Mexican government regulates the production of tequila, which — like champagne and cognac — has the so-called “guarantee of origin,” meaning it can only be made in certain regions.
Tequila is distilled from the pineapple-shaped core of the blue agave cactus in five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Jalisco, home of the town called Tequila and the leading state producer.
Centuries of tradition
Production methods have changed little since the 17th century. The drink is deeply embedded in Mexico’s culture with an image some fear fruit-flavored tequila could tarnish.
“I have been drinking tequila for more than 45 years and I don’t think it should be demeaned,” said Feliciano Chavez, a businessman from Zapopan in Jalisco state. “Tequila is pure. That’s why it doesn’t cause hangovers. I think new flavors will do some damage. It’s pure marketing.”
Tequila historian Jose Maria Muria, president of Colegio de Jalisco and an avid drinker of straight tequila — the style preferred by most Mexicans — says flavors are no big deal.
“If we don’t want to tamper with our tequila, then maybe we should prohibit margaritas or drinking tequila mixed with soda,” Muria said.
The Mexican tequila industry has its sights on 20-somethings in the United States. Fruit-flavored tequila will contain the same percentage of alcohol as original tequila, but for many will be less harsh on the taste buds.
The United States is already the main export market for tequila. Mexico last year exported 63 percent of the 141 million liters of tequila produced. More than 80 percent of it went to the United States.
But the two largest sellers of traditional tequila in the United States — Jose Cuervo and Sauza — said they do not plan to come out with fruit-flavored tequila.
“We are not interested in any tequila with flavors or fruits,” said Alejandra Castillo, a Mexico City spokeswoman for Jose Cuervo which sold about 29 million liters in the United States in 2002, making it the country’s most popular tequila.
“There are no plans, that we’re aware of, to introduce anything like this in the United States,” said Jack Shea, a spokesman for Sauza, which ranked second in U.S. sales last year with about 9 million liters.
One U.S. entrepreneur, David McQueen, has a head start on Mexican producers. He has sold flavored tequila since 2001.
McQueen, the CEO of Las Vegas-based Tukys Tequila, said he holds U.S. patents on five types of flavored tequila: mandarin-orange, watermelon, lime, kiwi-strawberry and coffee.
McQueen said the Mexican and U.S. government allow him to ship U.S.-made fruit flavors to Jalisco, where they are mixed with tequila and returned for sale in the United States.
Romo questioned the legal status of that tequila but McQueen said he has broken no rules.
“It’s legal. It’s not under the table,” McQueen said. “We’ve never had a problem calling it tequila.”