Kunal Patel, MD of Monika Enterprises, one of India’s largest importers and distributors of international spirit brands, sees a unique opportunity in tequila. And he’s looking to push the spirit by not just introducing international brands but also educating the consumer.
The traditionally dark spirits-oriented market in India has witnessed a rising interest in clear spirits in recent years. While gin has really taken off, with several homegrown brands popping up in less than a decade, the potential for other clear spirits is no less. This is evident in the number of players leaning towards this end of the market. Kunal Patel, managing director and partner at Monika Enterprises, one of India’s largest importers and distributors of international liquor and spirits brands, sees a unique opportunity in tequila.
“The Indian consumer, in recent years, has had more global exposure than ever before, through travel, social media and other sources. Consequently, they have become more aware of global trends and are also willing to expand their horizons. The uptick of the domestic gin market, for instance, follows a massive spurt in popularity across European and other Western markets a few years ago,” says Kunal.
Having brought in several international premium brands into India across the years, these trends inspired Kunal to explore the potential of tequila here.
“Usually, the trends that start out in the West eventually make their way to the Eastern markets. And tequila is something that has been growing in popularity in recent years in the West. Several celebrities, from George Clooney and Dwayne Johnson to Nick Jonas, have invested in premium tequila brands, catapulting the social image of this spirit enormously. It stands to reason that this is a trend that we will also witness in the domestic market eventually.”
Aside from awareness, the Indian consumer community has also changed in terms of demographics and preferences. “Today’s generation of consumers are quite different from say even 20 years ago. Alcohol has traditionally been viewed as a taboo, but no longer. People these days drink socially and for the experience too. We are more aware of social trends. One of the reasons why clear spirits have made headway with this new generation is the growth in popularity of cocktail culture. Even five years ago, India didn’t have as many specialty cocktail bars or menus as today. Bartenders have upgraded their skills, consumers have opened up to new experiences with cocktails as well.”
With more aware consumers embracing new spirits, the time is ripe to push tequila in the domestic space, feels Kunal. “In India, the vast majority of consumers have always seen tequila as something that needs to be had as a shot, and in some cases, in a cocktail. But there’s a lot more to the spirit than just that. The sipping tequila market is something that will definitely grow. If you look at some of the premium sipping tequilas, they can give scotch a run for its money.”
To lead this push for tequila, Monika Enterprises, aside from introducing new international brands to the market, is also educating industries as well as consumers. “We introduced Jose Cuervo in 2018 and since then, we have been educating consumers. We have a team of brand ambassadors comprising bartenders who understand everything about the spirit, from the manufacturing processes to the various ways in which tequila can be had. The ambassadors, in turn, have been educating other bartenders as well as consumers. We have also conducted masterclasses to train bartenders and in some cases, consumers too.”
Aside from educating consumers, Kunal also feels some policy changes in terms of taxation and advertising could go a long way to open up the market to what is clearly a more evolved and mature audience.
With a low base and a market share in single digits currently, Kunal sees a 20 to 30 per cent growth for tequila over the next few years. His company Monika Enterprises has been catering to the hospitality industry, restaurants and retail outlets for years. He noticed the gap in the market with tequila as most of the brands that were stocked in the country were commercial names that most were familiar with. He decided to balance their approach with a mix of commercial and craft brands, aiming to not only enhance exposure but also encourage discerning consumption. “We have balanced our portfolio with commercial and craft brands. We have categories where the entire year’s business would be not more than a few hundred cases while there are others which surpass 20,000 cases. For instance, we have Jose Cuervo, the world’s best-selling brand of tequila, at an entry level. Then there’s the semi-premium 1800; this is available in three different variants – blanco, reposado and anejo. We also have the super-premium Reserva De La Familia with extra anejo.”
Speaking about brands leads to Kunal opening up on more information about tequila, useful for those who are looking to explore the spirit. Tequila is usually available in three variants—Blanco, Reposado and Anejo. There are a few additional ones such as extra Anejo and Cristalino which involve a few more processes. Blanco is unaged tequila, while Reposado is matured in oak casks for a minimum of two months. Anejo is the expression that comes with ageing for a year or more. Extra Anejo requires at least three years of maturing, while Cristalino is aged tequila that is filtered to give it a clear appearance.
Kunal also has advice for those starting on tequila or looking to explore more in depth. “If you’re drinking Blanco or silver tequila, you do so in a cocktail, or with tonic water. If you like to drink it as a shot, keep the bottle refrigerated because it needs to be served chilled. Reposado is best for this kind of consumption. Then there is Anejo, which should be had in a rock glass, with a cube of ice or a dash of water. If it’s Extra Anejo, sip it slowly and pair it with a cigar if you so prefer. The flavours are exquisite and you should take your time to experience them.”
Given that cocktails are a major reason for the popularity of clear spirits, there are some that Kunal recommends. “There are your classics such a Tequila Sunrise and Margarita. Then there’s my favourite Rude Cosmopolitan, which is made with Anejo or Reposado, and the old fashioned. Also, the Picante is noteworthy.”
It’s clear that the Indian spirits market and Indian audiences too has matured. There are far greater opportunities today than ever before. Tapping into potential gaps is what has led to a diversification from a dark spirit-dominated space. Kunal sees clear signs of tequila being embraced by Indian consumers with equal alacrity. He signs off with a recipe to his favourite cocktail – the Rude Cosmopolitan. If you’re eager to explore tequila, give it a ‘shot’.
- 50ml 1800 Reposado tequila
- 20ml cranberry juice
- 10ml honey water
- 10ml sugar syrup
- 20ml lime juice
Add and muddle all the ingredients in a shaker.
Shake with ice and strain into a glass.
Garnish with piece of fruit or a sprig of lavender.