As much as Snoop Dogg might not be an obvious choice to champion one of Brazil’s most traditional products, the US rapper assumed the role this year when he signed up to market Cuca Fresca, a brand of the sugar cane spirit, cachaça, to the gringos in North America.
“You can’t be cool by being like everyone else,” he says in an advertisement that starts with a view of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. “Stay ahead of the game . drink different.”
The US market is a new frontier for a sugar cane-based spirit that has historically been in the shadow overseas of its more international cousin, rum. The most popular liquor in Brazil and, as such, reputedly the third most consumed spirit in the world, cachaça differs from rum in that it is normally made from fresh sugar cane juice that is fermented and distilled, while most rum derives from molasses.
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“The cachaça industry has transformed over the last 20 years,” says Paulo Furquim de Azevedo, of São Paulo’s Insper business school. The industry traditionally consisted of family producers in regions such as Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state or Salinas in Minas Gerais. The consumer’s problem was obtaining information to distinguish premium products from the rest, notes Mr Furquim.
Brazil has 2,000 producers and 4,000 brands with output of 800m litres per year and capacity of 1.2bn litres, according to Ibrac, Brazil’s cachaça institute. Over the past two decades, the industry has begun to introduce certification to set higher standards. Groups of important producers in Paraty and other regions have established regional certification. Premium products, some of which are aged for up to 12 years, can cost more than $100.
Exports are worth just $18m but grew 10 per cent last year compared with 2013. Brazil and its hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics have attracted the interest of multinationals in its giant domestic cachaça market.
In 2011, Italy’s Campari paid $26m for Sagatiba, a premium cachaça producer based in São Paulo. In 2012 UK-based distiller Diageo said it was buying one of Brazil’s biggest cachaça brands, Ypióca, for $450m.
The industry remains highly sensitive about being confused with rum. Brazil has negotiated recognition of cachaça as a separate product from rum by the US, Colombia and more recently Mexico.
One of the most celebrated moments of a visit by President Dilma Rousseff to Mexico this year was an accord that both countries would acknowledge the sovereignty of the other over their national drinks, tequila in the case of Mexico.
“This is the third country to recognise cachaça as an exclusive product of Brazil,” says Cristiano Lamêgo, Ibrac’s president, adding that this would help ensure that others did not make pirate versions of cachaça in other countries.
With sales still tiny in such markets as the US, cachaça may not need yet to fear overseas rip-offs. But, as Snoop Dogg says, it is good to be ahead of the game.