A tequila “brand”?

When it comes to tequila, there are the purists and there is everyone else. (This could be said of any liquor, I suppose.) The purists of this Mexican liquor would argue that true tequila must be made by a certified process using the agave sap. (Agave is a plant in the lily family.) True tequila, they would also argue, is produced in one of the five Mexican states that have historically distilled the liquor.

Just like most commodities, generic versions emerge and overtake a share of the market that was previously enjoyed by the purists. These knockoffs are produced by a different process and use cheaper additives with agave that mimic traditional tequila flavors. In an article by Leslie Gordon in the May 2012 ABA Journal, the National Chamber for the Tequila Industry states that it is trying to protect the term “agave” from use by distillers outside the traditional five Mexican states. The group claims that the knockoff distillers are deceiving consumers who associate agave with traditional, high quality tequila. The FDA & TTB prohibit the use of deceptive brand names. The article quotes Tequila.net that the U.S. accounts for 80% of exported tequila, which gives significant weight to U.S. law and its applicability to this situation.

The certified process is more expensive, so requiring it would block “unfair competition” by the smaller generic distillers. Opposition to the National Chamber’s proposal argue that the generic liquor designation of tequila is not misleading, as it is made from the agave plant, albeit produced in a different region and using a non-traditional process. In addition, agave is an ingredient and tequila is a type of liquor – neither of these are brands.

It seems to me that while purists like the National Chamber are proud of their historic product, which may be a driving force in the complaint, I can’t ignore what also looks like a lashing out at smaller businesses finding a cheaper way to make a similar product. These businesses are not deceiving consumers into thinking their products are made by one of the purist companies.  In actual use, consumers consider tequila a type of alcohol product, not a brand name distinctive of a particular origin or manufacturer. They are simply making a similar product accessible to more consumers by virtue of being more affordable. I don’t believe that in an age where generic brands exist in virtually every commodity type, consumers would be duped into thinking they are getting more than what they pay for. If these consumers can’t or don’t care to appreciate a fine, traditional tequila, then they aren’t the market segment to which the purists reach out, are they?