Brands are mining Mexican culinary traditions for new flavour combinations to sell overseas. From salt and lime beers to spicy tamarind, the past year or so has seen Mexican flavours added to everything from stouts to rums. While many of these brands claim Mexican heritage, an increasing number don’t. With Mexican-inspired flavours booming in the US, are we likely to ever see them here?
With the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico, it makes sense that the US has long drawn inspiration from its Southern neighbour. The relationship may have been fraught at times (there was that threat of ‘a wall’ remember), but from margaritas to Tex Mex, Mexican flavours have become an indelible part of US cuisine, and that applies increasingly to drinks.
It’s an apt time to be talking about it. It seems every May 5, drinks brands – whether they have connections to Mexico or not – want in on the celebration, launching new products and marketing activations for Cinco de Mayo. In the same way that St Patrick’s day has become a day to sink Guinness, the message behind the annual celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French in a key 1862 battle, seems to have become one of sinking some tequila, if the marketing activity of the past few years is to be believed. And this year has been no different. For example, the newly-launchedrosé tequila, Celosa Tequila, went with the slogan ‘Pinko de Mayo’. Nice.
From Michelada’s to Aqua Frescas
Timing their launches for the occasion, we’ve seen a raft of beverages launch in the US this week with Mexican flavours. Tapping into the growing Stateside trend for Michelada’s, Heineken-owned Mexican beer brand Dos Equis launched RTD Dos Equis Michelada, to offer the “authentic savory taste of the classic Mexican drink”. Booming in the US in recent years the serve combines tomato, lime, spice and a hint of salt, with beer. It also added non-alc beer, Dos Equis Lime & Salt ZERO and another RTD, Dos Equis Mango Margarita.
“As we continue to grow the Dos Equis portfolio, we are taking a look at what our customers are choosing to drink and creating products inspired by those choices," said Ligia Patrocinio, senior brand director at Dos Equis for Heineken USA.
Launched back in March, Mexican beer brand Modelo’s new line of Spiked Aguas Frescas were created specifically for the US market. Traditionally the Mexican drink blends fruit with water, lime juice and a bit of sweetener. Here, a malt base is used as a vehicle for some key flavour combos inspired by Mexican street markets. Made with real fruit juice, there’s Piña (Pineapple), Pepino y Limón (Cucumber-Lime), Sandia (Watermelon) and Flor de Jamaica (Hibiscus).
As both hail from Mexican brands – and both are inspired by authentic Mexican serves – they stand apart from some of the other notable launches. Such is the demand and interest in the US, that more and more, other major drinks brands want in on the trend, from often unrelated categories.
Me too Mexicana
Step forward Pernod Ricard and its launch of a boldly Mexican-inspired addition to its Absolut vodka line, with a product made with smoky pineapple and chilli flavour. Designed to be drunk as a shot, it was initially aimed at Mexican Gen Z consumers.
Described as Mexican-inspired but with global appeal, Absolut Nights Smoky Piña launched in Mexico in January 2023, ahead of a wider international rollout. Charl Bassil, global vice president marketing for Absolut said: “Borrowing from powerful tastes and designs of Mexico, we’re confident that Absolut Nights Smoky Pina will bring an exciting edge for partygoers looking to elevate their night.”
Brand new for May in the US is Bacardi’s Mango Chile, described as a blend of natural mango extracts, fiery chilli spice and white rum. Another product intended to be served as a shot, it’s inspired by the Mexican snack, says the brand. And just like the snack, the shot glass should be dusted with Tajín Clásico Seasoning, to get the ideal blend of sweet, spicy and tangy.
Maria Galis, Bacardi’s global innovations director, said: "We're so thrilled to bring Mango Chile to the US, especially after its knockout launch year in Mexico, which led Bacardi to become the top selling flavoured spirits portfolio in the country."
Both launches follow previous efforts by producers such as Diageo to tap into flavours inspired by Mexican cuisine. Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind was first launched in Mexico, before a US expansion in late 2020. The product “has given us the ability to showcase the versatility of our spirit in ways that consumers are really connecting with” said Stephanie Shields Jacoby, senior vice president Smirnoff Global at Diageo. It was later launched in the US with a glow-in-the-dark candy skull adorned bottle.
In early 2021 it also launched Guinness Salt & Lime Ale, the press release for which, was something to behold. It doesn’t mention Mexico and instead talks about the beer representing “much of why we’re here in America,” but does mention its ideal food pairings are chips and salsa, guacamole, salad with grilled chicken and citrus vinaigrette.
Heading this way?
So far, the market has form. Launch a product in Mexico and if successful, roll it out to US consumers who seemingly can’t get enough of all things spiced and citrussy. But so far very few of these innovations have made it to UK shores. While the tequila trend is booming and Mexican cuisine has been trending in the country for some years, the trickle-down effect has not yet led to Mexican flavoured drinks making a dent here. Most consumers won’t know what a Michelada is, for example. While in the US, countless packaged versions have been released in recent years, with many other serves already embedded in the culture.
Awareness of Mexican flavours in the UK is at an all-time high. But so far the wave of enthusiasm for them has extended only to food. In fact, its true to say that in the sequence of trend evolution for Mexican food and drink, we’re at the ‘premiumisation’ phase. While premium tequilas have been making increasing in-roads as the agave boom takes hold, premium Mexican restaurants with more authentic dishes, such as El Pastor, have also been gaining ground.
According to the WSTA, the volume of tequila sold in the UK off-trade has grown by 83% in the past two years, with values up 94%. It credits a willingness of consumers to spend more on premium sipping spirits and a desire for new ways to appreciate the drink.
So, is the market ripe for some new serve suggestions? Though concertedly pushed for years and now made infinitely easier by the arrival of dedicated grapefruit flavoured mixers, there’s still a very low awareness of serves such as the Paloma. But where that serve takes a little explaining, flavour combinations such as lime and chilli, or mango and chilli absolutely do not. They are immediately understandable.
It's clear that consumer enthusiasm for all things either nostalgic or tropical is going to wane at some point; there’s only so many raspberry ripple ciders, or Eton mess liqueurs you can get through in one evening. And when they do, there’s going to be a vacancy.
Mexican-inspired flavours make a logical next step from the tropical trend, by adding a bit of spice, depth and different combinations to ingredients and lead flavours many are already purchasing, such as pineapple and mango. The tricky balancing act is going to be with branding. With many consumers already seeking premium Mexican products, anything that leans into regional design tropes in an overly cartoony or stereotypical way may not be taken overly seriously as a product with staying power. Sure, consumers still want to have fun. But new launches in this space need to lead on their big, bold, but authentically Mexican flavours first if they’re to get consumer buy-in.
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