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Proximo Spirits: Tequila tourism, charity and innovation

From Tequila tourism to offering expressions that span every price point, Jose Cuervo owner Proximo Spirits is determined to lead the category’s success from the front.

Jose Cuervo Tequila
Products for every palate: Jose Cuervo

For the majority of distillery visitor centres, the experience begins as guests step over the threshold and immerse themselves in the brand. For Jose Cuervo, however, visitors have the chance to enjoy the brand way before they reach Tequila in Mexico. From Guadalajara, the Jose Cuervo Express offers a direct route to Tequila via a train ride that takes approximately two hours, and comes complete with a guided Tequila tasting, cocktails and well-paired Mexican nibbles to satiate guests en route.

“We’ve seen the success of investing in this experience, not only when you walk through the door of the distillery, but actually on the journey there,” notes Aoife Ni Fhlannchadha, global brand manager Tequila and mezcal, Proximo Spirits, parent company of Jose Cuervo Tequila. “I think a lot of consumers, today, are looking for something different, what can they do here that they can’t do in their home market? For that reason, it generates a lot of excitement. The general enthusiasm behind people is quite phenomenal, it makes an incredible atmosphere, and that sociability that Tequila is well known for.”

Jose Cuervo is not the only Tequila in Proximo Spirits’ stable, however; it sits alongside 1800 Tequila, Gran Centenario and Maestro Dobel. The Jose Cuervo Express acts as an invitation to allow visitors to explore all three Tequila brands – something Manuel Orive Guajardo, global brand director Tequila and mezcal, Proximo Spirits, sees as a unique selling point for the company.

After tourism was paused during the Covid-19 pandemic, visitors have eagerly returned since restrictions have lifted. The majority of visitors come from Mexico, the Proximo team notes. However, with the rising interest in Tequila – not just in the category’s two biggest markets of Mexico and the US, but further afield – the international portion of visitors is expected to grow.

“Tequila is still a very small part of the international spirits market, 1.5% of sales value/volume is Tequila,” notes Michael Cockram, global marketing director, Proximo Spirits EMEA APAC (Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific). “As this increases, I think naturally you’re going to see more people move to Tequila town, and the biggest player in Tequila town is ourselves. The long-term future is going to be increasing growth of that experience, which is very positive for everyone.”

Supporting local communities

Any tourism expansion of course impacts the local community – and supporting the surrounding areas and people is something Jose Cuervo has been passionate about for decades. In 1998, the Jose Cuervo AC Foundation was established for the sole purpose of giving back to the community. Its important work includes raising employment and business opportunities for the population of Tequila in Jalisco. Last year, the foundation delivered 12.2 million pesos worth of charitable donations, which was used to tackle a wide range of local issues, including: education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, infrastructure development and the empowerment of marginalised groups.

“Since [1998], it has been an evergreen project,” stresses Guajardo. “Last year, one of the projects the foundation focused strongly on was getting more people educated within the town and getting more resources for people. It really focused on fostering education among youngsters, it was a huge project.”

Guajardo is of course talking about education in the broader academic sense of the word. But when it comes to Tequila as a spirit, successful education has played an important part in elevating the brand over recent years – and more specifically, Proximo Spirits’ brands have contributed heavily to growing the agave-based spirit’s profile.

“We’ve made a great effort in changing the perception of Tequila,” notes Guajardo. “And this was done way before the pandemic. The team did a great job expanding to occasionality, expanding through refreshment. If you look back a few years ago, Tequila was perceived as a party starter, it was hard to sip, mostly driven by shots. So what the team has been doing is getting people aware of the versatility of Tequila, which means you can expand towards fresher, longer drinks, showcase its mixability, sip it – there are different liquid propositions. It’s not just reposado and silver, you have smoother propositions such as añejo and extra añejo.”

The pandemic, he continues, created time for consumers to try different Tequila brands and serves. “That then paved the way to today, with people being much more knowledgeable about what they enjoy for sipping or in longer drinks,” he adds.

Offering a point of difference

Innovation has also been key to enhancing consumers’ experiences with Tequila, as Ni Fhlannchadha highlights. “What we’ve learned from research that we’ve conducted is consumers are just looking for something different,” she says.

“They’re tired of their choices that they’ve maybe been consuming over the last number of years. Also, I think particularly among younger consumers, people are looking for bragging rights, to be different around the table. I think Tequila producers provide that solution, so there’s a bit of a trend piece going on as well – the Margarita has become very trendy and that’s really played in our favour.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and energy on innovation, not only on the vertical brands, but also in other brands such as 1800 Tequila and Maestro Dobel, and the category as a whole. It’s contributing to the premiumisation of the category and we’re seeing an influx of premium brands coming onto the market, and the success is being felt.”

Cockram concurs and draws parallels between the premiumisation of Tequila and the Scotch whisky category. “A bit like Scotch, there’s a business that goes all the way through to prestige expressions, you’ve got standard bottlings, which are lovely and absolutely fine to drink, all the way through to high-end offerings. Tequila is going to go the same way. That’s a really great evolution to start the journey, and take Tequila’s growth international now.”

As the biggest Tequila producer in the world – the brand sold 9.2m nine-litre cases in 2022, up from 7.9m in 2021 – Jose Cuervo plans to continue to lead this growth from the front.

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