SELLING MEXICAN

Chalk it up to NAFTA, or perhaps the major influx of Hispanic immigrants in recent years. Maybe it’s the popularity of warm Mexican beaches among vacationers, especially in winter, or the appeal of the country’s laid-back attitude. Whatever the reason, Mexican spirits and beers are hot, and not just with a Hispanic audience.

With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, now is a good time to take advantage of Mexican brands. While Cinco de Mayo is mostly celebrated in markets with large populations of Mexican-Americans, it is becoming more mainstream.

“Just as they say everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s Mexican on Cinco de Mayo,” said Jay Brooks, beer buyer for the Beverages, and more chain based in San Francisco. “Because of the big Hispanic population in California, there are lots of parades and parties, even if people don’t know what the holiday commemorates.”

In markets where the date is more well known, many people use the holiday as a reason to socialize with friends and kick off the summer season a little early. You can use it, too, to draw attention to some of the fastest-growing spirits and beers in the industry. Tequila has become particularly trendy, especially high-end brands. Allied-Domecq’s Sauza, for example, was the industry’s top percentage gainers among major brands last year. The company’s Kahlua brand also was among the top five fastest-growing brands. Corona Extra, the best-selling imported beer in he U.S., has been one of the beer industry’s top growth brands for several years running.

Merchandising Key

Putting Mexican spirits and beer brands out where customers can become familiar with them is the first step. “We don’t gear up a whole lot for Cinco de Mayo, per se. We had more Hispanic customers come in for Fourth of July celebrations than for Cinco de Mayo last year after handing out flyers,” said Mike McCullough, Hi-Time Cellars, Costa Mesa, CA. “But we make sure we have adequate amounts of Mexican beers and always have end-caps of tequila. We have 120 different types of tequila now and as many Mexican beers as I can get”.

Themed displays can draw attention to brands you want to feature. Shoppers Discount Wine & Spirits, Madison, NJ, puts up a big beer display, a mass display of Jose Cuervo tequila and a rack of high-end tequilas and dresses them up with yellow, orange and other bright festive colors. “We add piñatas to make the displays exciting and fresh lemons and limes, so you can’t miss it,” said Gary Fisch, co-owner.

Even if customers in your market aren’t familiar with Cinco de Mayo, fiesta-themed displays with added touches such as Mexican sombreros or piñatas, can put your customers in the mood for celebrating. Beverages, and more, the California-based chain of beverage alcohol superstores, have found that leaving displays up for a few weeks after Cinco de Mayo broadens the appeal to more customers. “Cinco de Mayo used to be a short window, just a week or so,” Brian Bowden, spirits buyer for Beverages, and more! “If we keep a display up for a month, we get a better chance of hitting everybody.”

Cross-merchandising can give you an opportunity to make your store supply central for your customers’ party needs. Beverages, and more, for example, adds chips, salsas, Margarita mix and glassware to its Cinco de Mayo displays.

Many retailers also cross-merchandise other spirits along with several tequila brands. Merchandise Cointreau and Grand Marnier, for example, for margaritas. Display Mexican brandies along with mixers and drink suggestions. Don’t forget to include Kahlua in your displays for drinks like the “Brave Bull” (Kahlua and tequila). Feature other brands that might appeal to your customers as part of a fiesta celebration.

“Buchanan’s Scotch, for example, is not a big Scotch brand,” said John Rector, Sigel’s Liquors, Dallas, TX, “but it’s big in Mexico. We have merchandise out two weeks ahead of time and try to group things together for that audience.”

Give your employees an added incentive to create displays and merchandising ideas that will really move product. Bowden runs display contests among the stores once in a while to encourage staff creativity. He offers something like a restaurant gift certificate to the winner.

Promote Good Foreign Relations

Get the word out about featured brands. Cinco de Mayo is a significant holiday in his market, so Rector advertises specials and features in a local newspaper. Retailer Fisch puts out a newsletter in late April letting his customers know what products to look for before and after the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Bowden prints in-store flyers in April advertising specials primarily on tequilas and brandies.

Since so many of the high-end tequilas are relatively new on the market, it helps to educate customers on all the nuances among the different types.

“Because high-end tequilas are taking off, we’re now doing a permanent section for them,” said Brett Pontoni, general manager of the Binny’s Beverage Depot, Chicago. “Chain-wide, we run a number of spirits seminars, and we’re doing a lot with tequilas. Although their knowledge is growing, people still don’t know a lot. As better mescals come onto the market, we try to merchandise them and introduce them to our customers. The best people to sell high-end tequila to are Scotch, bourbon or brandy drinkers. We sell it the same way.”

Tequila has become so popular in its stores that the chain, which also includes Gold Standard and Liquor Chalet stores, is buying single barrels of tequila from Jose Cuervo and bottling it under its own label as 1800.

At Beverages, and more, Bowden incorporates tasting notes and ratings into point-of-sale materials for high-end tequilas.

“About 15 of the 60 to 70 tequilas we carry are rated 85 or better,” he said. “Wine consumers are coming over for $40 bottles, and they’re looking for number ratings.”

“We do a lot of merchandising with tequilas, especially the high-end, which are moving very well,” said Dan Manning, vice president of Haskel’s, Minnetonka, MN. In addition to putting tasting notes on shelf talkers, the stores are moving them around to feature them in better spots and they’re doing lots of tastings. Manning is even considering changing the chain’s annual riverboat wine-tasting cruise to a beer and tequila tasting this summer.

Supplier Support

Many suppliers are getting behind Cinco de Mayo in a big way and can offer you help with displays, p-o-s materials and promotions. Here’s what just a few of the brands are up to this year.

TEQUILAS.Allied-Domecq’s Sauza brand is pushing “Sauza de Mayo” this year with materials for major case displays. Brand activities will be hyped on its web site.

Recently launched Margaritaville tequila from Seagram will heavy up its “Just Arrived” program in introductory markets. By summer, distribution will expand nationally, and the brand will co-sponsor the Jimmy Buffet tour. Seagrams’ other new tequila brand, the high-end Don Julio, is being supported with shelf and case card materials that include tasting notes and some of the brand’s heritage.

Two Fingers, imported by Heaven Hill, kicks off an ongoing on pack offer during Cinco de Mayo — a collector’s shot glass. The brand offers a different version every year. Point-of-sale materials feature the brand’s tagline “Think of what you can do with Two Fingers” tied in to Cinco de Mayo. Heaven Hill’s El Conquistador brand is supported with shelf talkers that feature tasting notes.

BRANDIES. The two major Mexican brandies, Presidente and Don Pedro, are both imported by Allied-Domecq. Presidente will come out with a gift pack containing two signature highball glasses and drink recipes on the back panel to promote the brand’s mixability. The “Margarita Presidente,” made with Presidente and Sauza, is the best-selling margarita at Chili’s Grill & Bar, according to Alejandro Cortes, Allied-Domecq’s marketing manager of Mexican brandies. The brand hopes to do a tie-in to the presidential election this fall with new drink recipes.

Don Pedro is coming out with a music video called “Millennium Dance.” Featuring a popular female Mexican singer, both the music and the video will be promoted to on-premise accounts and dance clubs that cater to Hispanic demographics.

BEERS. Category leader Corona has a variety of p-o-s materials available with the theme “Lime it up with the drinko for Cinco.” A colorful cantina display features Corona and Corona Light graphics. Other merchandising materials include countdown calendars, pennants, neckers, posters, static stickers, and case cards. T-shirts with the graphic theme can be used for promotions.

Sol is taking the opposite tack with its Cinco de Mayo promotion. Called “Keep your Cinco simple,” the promotion tells consumers the “cinco” simple steps to an enjoyable celebration: 1) chill; 2) open; 3) skip the lime; 4) enjoy; and 5) go back to “uno.”

Check with your local distributors for programs being offered by other spirits and beer brands. The more you do to merchandise Mexican brands early, the better your sales are likely to be during the key summer selling season.

“Cinco de Mayo used to be an on-premise holiday, but now it’s a cross-ethnic celebration,” said Bowden. “It’s a reason to celebrate the season. It’s becoming a good holiday for us.”


Michael Sherer is a Seattle-based writer and consultant specializing in beverages and foodservice.


0400mex2Cinco de Mayo

Often confused with Mexican independence day (actually Sep tember 16th), Cinco de Mayo is Spanish for “fifth of May.” The holiday commemorates a victorious battle the Mexican army fought with the French in 1862 at Puebla. Led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, Mexican troops vanquished a force sent by Emperor Napoleon III that was better armed and three times as large.

Unfortunately, the French later gained control of Mexico City and took over the government. Five years later, however, Mexican resistance and pressure from the United States forced France to withdraw its troops.

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