M&C Saatchi backs Jennifer Hawkins’ tequila brand Sesión

“If you have skin in the game, and you do good work that drives the business forward, you will also drive your business forward,” he said.

Ms Hawkins, who retains a controlling stake, is clear this is not the sort of tequila typically slammed as a shot with lime and salt, but rather a drink to be enjoyed over ice or in a cocktail.

“It was actually Jake’s idea to start the business, he introduced this to me,” she told AFR Weekend. “We wanted to create a lifestyle brand. This is to sip, not shoot.”

Not easy

Since her days as the face of Myer, Ms Hawkins has moved on to other business ventures including accumulating property and the Jbronze tanning range. The entrepreneur, with her husband, owns property development company J Group Projects. She also has endorsements with Mount Franklin, Range Rover and Freedom Foods.

Jennifer Hawkins and husband Jake Wall are working with Mexican distillers to produce their Sesion Tequila brand. 292022003553

But while Ms Hawkins has a clear enthusiasm for Sesión and its prospects, making a push into China will not be easy.

It was illegal to import 100 per cent agave tequila into China until 2013. Since then such tequila has struggled to gain traction with Chinese willing to spend up big on imported liquors.

“In China people want to be seen drinking something different and unique,” said Kiwi Mark Tanner, who runs consultancy China Skinny in Shanghai.

“You don’t get the same face drinking a white spirit because it could be mistaken for [local liquor] báijiǔ. Those that have done better in China are darker spirits, like whiskey. Tequila now is not a category of scale like in Australia or other markets.”

Sesion tequila has already won several awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. PHOTOSPIEGEL

Mr Freeburn admitted there will be hurdles in China, and he is focused on building the brand in bars and expanding through bottle shops, rather than selling online via Alibaba.

“No tequila brand has really capitalised so far in China,” he said. “There are a lot of young people that go to clubs and drink well. However, this is still such an unknown in China. One of our big plans is to partner with people. We will form other businesses, and also work with brand ambassadors.”

Better quality

Mr Leggett is certain that tequila “has all the makings of being big” in China, adding the challenge is around position, not volume.

Mr Freeburn declined to talk sales figures, but globally he is aiming to sell 100,000, 9-litre cases in three years.

Tequila is the fastest-growing liquor category in the US, where it is becoming a challenger to popular spirit gin, which knocked vodka off its perch.

“What we have found is that the trends in the industry, people are drinking less in terms of volume but drinking better-quality products,” Mr Leggett said. “Sesión is a good tequila. This is a category that has been dominated by poor liquids in the past.”

Sesión is working with eighth-generation distillers the Beckmann family in Jalisco, Mexico, and has already won several awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Asked if Sesión could be the next Casamigos George Clooney and Randy Gerber’s tequila label which was sold to giant Diageo for $US1 billion ($1.3 billion) in 2017, Ms Hawkins said: “I wouldn’t want to put that out there. We are running our own race, and as an Aussie start-up, we are going to do our very best.”

Sesión will be available in bottle shops and bars in Nevada, New York, Texas, Florida and California priced at $US49 a bottle. In Australia Sesión, which comes in Blanco, Reposado, and Mochait, sells for $85 per bottle.

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