Sell much cachaça recently? Any number of producers of the Brazilian spirit are anxiously hoping the answer is “Yes,” though somehow, I doubt the bump, if any, will be very larger.
In the run up to the World Cup, which has set records among American TV audiences, some of the cachaça producers I spoke with were anticipating that the focus on host country Brazil this year, and once again for the Olympics in 2016, would create the breakthrough the sugar cane spirit needed to get back on trajectory. After a promising first part of the century, cachaça sales stalled in the U.S., and only a few brands could be said to be active in the cocktail market. And while the one night I spent out while a game was being broadcast showed an impressive amount of bar and restaurant attention to the contest, the amount of cachaça drinks I saw being served was mostly down to the fact that I was in a Brazilian-centric restaurant rather than a sudden surge in familiarity and affection for the spirit.
Classic Caipirinha Cocktail from Brazil
Like wine producers and even brewers, cachaça makers have been hoping for a “Sideways” moment, an opportunity to seize a culturally significant moment to re-energize interest in their wares. Many connect the surge of tequila sales in the US to Mexico’s hosting of the World Cup in 1968, but that’s entirely debatable, and what and how we drank then was very different than today’s vast selection of international beverages consumers are confronted with daily. And that’s not how brands or categories are actually built in this country.
Americans like to do the discovering on their own, or at least think they do, rather than drink something because the place of origin is in the news. A long-term boom in travel might help stimulate sales, of course, because just as employees posted abroad return with a favorite local tipple, vacationers like to recreate at home the moments they relished while traveling, and nothing does it quicker than food and drink. But even if thousands of viewers suddenly decide they must play beach foot volleyball in the land of its creation, will that make them return with a love of Caipirinhas?
No cachaça producer seems to have been able to take advantage of the TV audience, either, though Bacardi ads are frequent - seems that the company, which has a stake in Leblon cachaça, decided not to help spread the media wealth around to its little Brazilian brother. Not that TV is the way to introduce a category of spirits to the mostly unaware American alcohol consumer. When the various cachaça reps spoke enthusiastically last fall about what the World Cup might do for them, it was hard for me to imagine how that would work.
In the next few weeks, after the final game is played and international attention moves on to the next big thing, it will be interesting to see just how many liters of sugar cane spirit actually were poured.