Agave-based spirits, such as tequila and mezcal, have experienced an intense evolution—both in production and brand image—over the past few years. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, mezcal posted the largest gain among all spirits with consumption in the U.S. up 32.4 percent over last year and tequila up 8.5 percent. And there’s no sign of slowing down: Over the next five years, the category is expected to continue to grow with projected sales reaching $23.8 million in 2023.
Creating agave-based spirits requires a lot of resources and energy. To meet the heightened demand, there’s been an increase in damaging industry practices, such as premature harvesting and agave cloning. Cloning makes the plants more susceptible to disease and growth issues. Premature harvesting not only produces less flavorful tequila, it produces a lower quantity of tequila and sparks a vicious cycle of harvesting younger plants year over year. These serious threats are contributing to the likelihood of an agave shortage in the coming years.
The key to agave-based spirits’ long-term viability lies in promoting both the diversity of the category and underscoring the value of sustainable industry practices.
Breakthru Beverage Group’s Trident division, which focuses on craft and emerging spirits, recently launched Eat. Drink. Agave. The program is designed to build awareness around emerging agave-based spirits by educating the Trident customer base on new brands that focus on supporting distilleries, ranchers, and farmers that leverage sustainable practices. As part of this program, Breakthru is supporting the Tequila Interchange Project (TIP), a nonprofit organization that advocates for the preservation of sustainable traditional and quality practices in the industries of agave-distilled spirits. In reaction to concerning harvesting trends that are becoming mainstays in agave production, TIP has placed a renewed emphasis on the importance of preserving the great heritage of agave distillation.
What does that look like in the U.S.?
There’s a growing opportunity for distributors to take on smaller, more sustainable producers. By nurturing and investing in socially conscious emerging spirits brands, the industry can help preserve the heritage and the quality of the growing agave category. It’s a win-win that creates social value in tandem with business value.
How can you help protect agave-based spirits? Drink sustainably. Here are some tips:
Try something new. Expand your mindset and palate by exploring new and unique flavor profiles to discover different drinking styles and formats.
Celebrate diversity. There are a lot of different types of spirits that showcase the breadth of the agave plant, and most of us aren’t even scratching the surface. There’s real opportunity to dive deeper in this category and spotlight authentic, traditional agave-based spirits brands.
Pay attention and spread the word. Be mindful about the quality of spirits you (and those around you) are choosing. Do your research and gravitate towards brands that use responsible practices.
John Oliver is National Trade Marketing Director, Emerging/Craft Brands for Breakthru Beverage Group’s Trident division. For more information on the Tequila Interchange Project and how you can help support the agave spirits industry, visit http://www.tequilainterchangeproject.org/. For more information on Breakthru Beverage Group’s Trident division and portfolio, visit https://www.breakthrubev.com/Trident-Almanac/.