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Tequila Enemigo breaks ‘new ground’ in Dubai

Tequila Enemigo has launched into the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a market “underserved” by the category, according to the brand’s co-founder, as the first strategic step towards expansion into Asia.

Tequila Enemigo breaks 'new ground' in Dubai

The UK-founded brand, recently acquired by luxury company Madaluxe Group, has announced a partnership with African + Eastern, one of only two licensed alcohol distributors in the UAE.

Starting with Dubai, this agreement will encompass all GCC regions.

Max Davies-Gilbert, who co-founded Tequila Enemigo in London, told db he is “excited to be going into new and different markets”.

The brand’s business plan has always been “about launching into not the obvious markets”, Davies-Gilbert said, explaining that in 2017 when the brand first launched, “London at that point didn’t really have the Tequila scene that it currently has”.

Enemigo has since launched into established markets for Tequila including the US and Mexico, where it is now available in 600 stores. But for Davies-Gilbert, the focus is still on less obvious moves. “I think we build up credibility by going into these markets that are potentially underserved by the liquid,” he said.

Dubai is therefore “a natural fit for us”. He explained: “It’s a good travel hub, it has leading hospitality throughout the world, and Enemigo is very focused on cities.” Dubai now sits alongside the likes of Mexico City, New York, London and LA as one of the brand’s key “hubs”.

Describing it as “the Istanbul of our age” — a key meeting point between East and West — Davies-Gilbert believes Dubai has indeed been underserved by other Tequila brands. “We saw a gap within that for us to come up and reach as high as we could with it.”

He explained that as a result of strict alcohol laws, “some of the bigger players are very worried about putting a foot wrong, and some of the smaller players don’t have the budget to compete in those markets”. Enemigo, however, is in a “sweet spot”, he said, “of not necessarily having the worries of the larger conglomerates but having the ability to fund significant growth.”

Tequila Enemigo breaks 'new ground' in Dubai

The distribution deal with African + Eastern will also see Tequila Enemigo rolled out across Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries where alcohol is permitted. The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In Kuwait the sale and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Davies-Gilbert is not worried about navigating the complex landscape of alcohol laws in the region. “We’re used to operating within tight parameters,” he said, comparing the GCC to the US, a market which also has strict laws on alcohol, the difference being that “that was on the basis of prohibition, and alcohol laws in the Middle East are based on religion”.

As such, the brand’s focus will be “less about the out-of-home advertising”, with the primary focus on the on-trade, particularly in Dubai.

Expatriates in the United Arab Emirates represent about 88% of the population, while Emiratis constitute roughly 12%. “You do have a lot of brand recognition coming from New York, London, France and Italy, which definitely helps us push it out,” Davies-Gilbert explained.

Further East

Within the GCC, “Bahrain is another natural target”, Davies-Gilbert said. “There’s a lot of tourism there, and equally moving across to Oman to some of the five star resorts also made a lot of sense. With African and Eastern we have that ability.”

The GCC, and Dubai more specifically, will act as a “key stronghold” for the company in coming years, as it plans to launch further East. In 2025 the brand plans to launch into Asian markets, the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand featuring high on the list.

But Davies-Gilbert is wary of the risks of expanding too fast, particularly in Australia where there is considerable interest. “From a business point of view we’re very careful and we’ve learnt a lot of lessons from companies that expand too quickly and then lose their identity,” he said. “I think if we get to the point where we’re in Australia we would have to go with a business partner that we really trusted.”

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