Mark Wahlberg displays his Flecha Azul Tequila at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas on June 15, 2023.
Dennis Trusello | Getty Images
As more drinkers seek out luxury spirits, more and more celebrities are using their star power and money to promote high-end spirits brands.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of America, sales of premium spirits brands in the distilled spirits market were up 4 percent last year from the year before. Consumers’ willingness to spend more on premium bottles has led to booming sales of alcoholic beverages such as tequila, which will grow 21% in 2022 from the previous year.
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Chris Swonger, DISCUS president and chief executive, said the high-end spirits business has become an attractive venture for those with the right capital and celebrity as shoppers shell out for pricier alcohol.
“Celebrity-owned spirits brands have been around for a while,” Swanger said. “But what is certain is that consumer interest in premium distilled spirits has grown in recent years, excitingly generating engagement and enthusiasm from many celebrities.”
DISCUS tracks celebrity-affiliated brands and says there are dozens of them on the market.
Celebrities of all types, from movie stars to athletes, models and musicians, are allied with top spirits, forming lucrative partnerships within the industry and even hitting the road to promote their products.
This trend seems to be most prevalent in the booming tequila scene.
Actor Mark Wahlberg is serving as a bartender this summer, giving customers a taste of his Flecha Azul brand of tequila at bars and restaurants across the country. The move is part of the brand’s global expansion, which Wahlberg’s business partner Alan Marks said would not have been possible without the actor’s involvement.
“Mark has a huge network and opened a lot of doors for us,” Marks said in a phone interview with CNBC. “We’ve always felt our product was superior to anything else on the market, but having someone like Mark amplifies it and our message makes people more willing to taste it.”
Marquez co-founded the company in 2020 with Mexican-American professional golfer Abraham Ancer. Wahlberg joined the team last year under ownership, and since then, “sales have grown exponentially,” Marquez said.
“He’s fully invested not only from a capital standpoint but also from a standpoint of his time,” Márquez said. The trio plans to go on promotional tours in the US and Canada.
Clooney’s Casamigos set the standard
(L to R) Casamigos Tequila founders Mike Meldman, George Clooney and Rande Gerber attend the launch of Casamigos Tequila at the Ushuaia Beach Hotel on August 23, 2015 in Ibiza, Spain.
David M. Bennett | David M. Benett Dave Bennett | Getty Images
The Flecha Azul team still has a lot of work to do as other celebrity-owned brands, such as George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila, have gained significant market share on US e-commerce platform Drizly. Clooney was one of the first celebrities to show others how lucrative the premium liquor business is, especially if they’re looking for sophisticated buyers.
Clooney founded Casamigos in 2013 before selling it to spirits group Diageo for $1 billion in 2017. The brand currently holds a 19 percent share in the Drizly tequila subcategory. The platform says it is by far the best-selling tequila brand on the market.
Other spirits run by the rich and famous have also done well in recent years.
Notable new entrants into the tequila scene include Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Teremana Tequila, the No. 8 best-selling variety on Drizly, and Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila, which has climbed to No. 15. Johnson and Jenner are launching their own brands in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
“While consumers may be a bit skeptical of celebrity endorsements, celebrity-owned brands seem to have real staying power, leveraging their star power in authentic and meaningful ways while also bringing premium products to market,” said Liz Paquette, Director of Consumer Insights at Drizly. “Celebrity-owned brands have found great success on Drizly, often becoming top-sellers in their respective categories.”
After tequila, actor Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin is the third-biggest-selling gin brand this year, accounting for 9 percent of the category, Drizly said. Reynolds sold the gin to Diageo in 2020 for a whopping $610 million.
Meanwhile, Jay-Z’s D’USSÉ is by far the second best-selling cognac brand on Drizly. It has a 14% share of the cognac market on the platform.
Jay-Z, whose name is Shawn Carter, sold a majority stake in D’USSÉ to Bacardi in February for a reported sum of up to $750 million.
While many celebrity brands have thrived amid the recent craze, others have flopped as competition has intensified.
Last month, Diageo severed ties with rapper and music producer Sean “Diddy” Combs. Sued spirits maker alleging racial discrimination. Combs, who has worked with Diageo for 15 years, claims the company sees its Ciroc vodka and De Leon tequila as “black brands” and is pouring resources into Clooney’s Casamigos and Reynolds’ Aviation gin.
Diageo filed a motion to dismiss and terminated the partnership.
“Mr. Combs’ malicious conduct is a clear breach of his contract, and we have no choice but to dismiss his baseless complaint and end our business relationship,” the company said in a statement to CNBC. “We have exhausted all reasonable remedies and see no other way forward.”