Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, is made with cachaça, muddled lime and sugar.

Brazilians are investing in a strong and fierce marketing campaign to promote their national spirit, cachaça, the main ingredient of Caipirinha, in the United States. These days, even in the award winning television series “The Big Bang Theory” there are cachaça bottles in display.

Product placement is part of the plan to increase exports to the American market. Television ads, magazine ads, online videos, social media takeovers with the introduction of new designs to sell this old, traditional drink will follow as Brazil prepares to take center stage in 2014 with the Soccer World Cup and in 2016 with the Olympic Games both being held in Rio de Janeiro.

“A world of opportunity just opened up before us. The focus is on the American market now,” said Dival Ramiro, a cachaça importer in New York. “The marketing campaigns are targeting the American consumer, not the Brazilian people anymore.”

Last month, cachaça, the world’s third most popular spirit according to a study by American University  was recognized by the U.S. as a “genuinely Brazilian product.” After more than a decade of pressure from the Brazilian government and cachaça importers, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau announced its ruling and cachaça attained recognition in the U.S.

From 700,000 liters of cachaça currently exported to the U.S., Brazil is hoping to see that number go up to more than 5 million liters a year in the next decade. In 2012, cachaça sales to the U.S. totaled $2 million, about 10 percent of all cachaça exports, according to the Brazilian Cachaça Institute (Ibrac).

A boost in sales and imports of the drink that was previously mislabeled as “Brazilian rum” is expected in the next years. From now on, cachaça will have to be made in Brazil according to the local production and quality criteria. Just like Champagne has to be made in France, Tennessee whiskey in Tennessee, tequila in Mexico, for example.

“If you’re going to charge a premium for your product you have to be able to distinguish it from other products. You want to make a point of establishing this distinctiveness of your product so you can charge a higher price and develop a market for it,” said Dean Baker, economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, about the ruling on cachaça. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see some big companies get in the game and try to expand the market.”

Brazil produces 1.2 billion liters of cachaça every year and only one percent of it is exported. The U.S. is the fourth largest importer of cachaça, after Germany, Portugal and France.

Tavares de Almeida, the company that owns Velho Barreiro, one of the most popular cachaça labels in Brazil, claims that international investors have been contacting them and are interested in knowing more about the market.

Purissima do Brasil, a cachaca exporter in Brazil, predicts that its sales will triple in the next year after the U.S. ruling.

“The United States are very interested in our cachaça,” said a representative from Purissima do Brasil.

Leblon, a popular cachaça label in the U.S., has been targeting the American consumers for the past few years with a strong campaign to get everyone to drink more cachaça and with a popular movement “legalize cachaça” that fought for the drink to be recognized as a distinctive Brazilian product. The movement went as far as collecting 300,000 signatures in the United States on a document they called “Cachaça declaration of independence” and conducted 500 rallies nationwide. Leblon claims to have transformed cachaça into an “exotic luxury import.” A bottle of 750mL sells for about $32 in the United States.

A study made by the Brazilian Tourism Institute in the U.S. last year reveals that 21 percent of Americans can name caipirinha as a typical Brazilian product.

In the last decade, more cachaça labels like Leblon and Cachaça 51 have reached the American market.

“We have been selling a lot of cachaça in the past few years,” said Jose Conceiçao, owner of Lisbon Liquors in New Jersey. “We sell a lot in the winter, people like to stay warm.”

In New York, along with Brazilian restaurants like Plataforma, Beco, Esperanto or Miss Favela where Caipirinhas were always served, bottles of cachaça are becoming common at other bars and restaurants.

“I make a couple of caipirinhas every night,” said Soninha Barros, bartender at Giorgione, an Italian restaurant. “I’m planning on making dozens of caipirinhas during the soccer world cup next year!”

After the recognition of cachaça in the U.S.,  Brazil is looking for the European Union to  follow through with a similar ruling but the process is still in its infancy.

“Cachaça was born along with Brazil and represents our culture since the XVI century,” said Vicente Bastos Ribeiro, president of Ibrac. “Success in the U.S. will help us expand the sale of cachaça to the whole world.”


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