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Move Over Kefir and Kombucha, Tepache Is Coming For The RTD Space

by Rudy Sanchez on 08/11/2022 | 5 Minute Read

Kombucha, the fizzy and fermented mushroom tea, has been homebrewed for centuries. In more recent times, the popularity of the drink, purported to have health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and bolstering the immune system (although there is no definitive proof of such claims), has driven the emergence of ready-to-drink (RTD) offerings. Additionally, RTD kombucha has inspired interest in pre/probiotic boosted functional beverages such as sodas and teas.

But in Mexico, folks have been enjoying a different kind of refreshing fermented beverage called tepache. Tepache has pre-Colombian roots, and the contemporary version gets made by fermenting pineapple rinds and peels with brown sugar. Spices like cinnamon and clove and additional ingredients like fruit commonly get added, making for a tasty drink. Tepache is ready within 48 hours of fermenting at room temperature and easily prepared at home, and the alcoholic content is minimal (usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2% typically).

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Though tepache is commonly available throughout the southwestern US, and bottled tepache gets sold in Mexico from companies such as Frumex, it is only until recently that RTD versions of this Mexican fermented beverage have started to emerge. Mexican cuisine enjoys mass appeal both in the US and globally, making introducing tepache easier to consumers outside of Mexico.

Tepache was probably a hard sell in the past, likely because pineapple scraps are the central ingredient. Still, with sustainability more top-of-mind with consumers, the notion of drinking beverages made with upcycled ingredients isn’t as off-putting anymore, considering most folks can get behind the snout-to-tail movement. Why not make the most use of pineapples, especially when the result is a tasty drink, instead of tossing them?

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But can tepache breakthrough to a broader group of consumers in the US and beyond? Consumers took to kombucha in droves, and there are certainly no shortages at your local Whole Foods.

“Tepache can become even more popular than kombucha in a can because kombucha is a pronounced flavor, while tepache is far milder,” says Gustavo Arrellano, Los Angeles Times columnist and author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. “It's somewhere between mineral water and kombucha, and it's Mexican—so I see success happening.”

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The RTD tepache brand at the front of the charge of the Mexican is De La Calle. It’s not difficult to see why. The packaging, by HERE studio, takes strong cues from Mexican food carts and hand-painted signs, evoking fond connections with Mexican vacations and the delicious treats from the country’s culinary canon. Tepache’s Mexican origin is central to Del La Calle’s label and branding, and it boldly stands out on the shelf.

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De La Calle isn’t the only RTD tepache brand to emerge in the last couple of years. Holy Tepache is another brand of the canned pineapple drink. While the brand opts for slim cans, the design doesn’t recall Mexico as strongly as De La Calle, save for the wordmark that also celebrates the hand-painted sign aesthetic. Instead, Holy Tepache calls to mind 90s-era design cues with bright colors and a mix of organic shapes and sharp graphics.

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Kombucha brand Big Easy recently expanded into tepache with can labels that also feature bright and bold colors. Tile-like patterns reminiscent of Mexican folk art shaped into a pineapple feature prominently, complete with a green crown of leaves on top. Like Holy Tepache, Big Easy promotes the pre/probiotics found in tepache on the front of the can, giving wellness-minded consumers an intriguing option.

While canned tepache is still an emerging trend, some brewers are already making spiked versions of the beverage like Crooked Owl's 5% ABV-sporting update. Just a few percentage points stronger than the real deal, the label features delightful folk typography and a flying owl-pineapple hybrid under the sun in the middle of a brick arch. Like other non-alcoholic tepache brands, Crooked Owl’s design evokes Mexican art and culture.

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Craft cider and beer brewer Reverend Nat West was far from his Portland, Oregon hometown when he discovered tepache on a trip south of the border. Immediately enamored by the drink, he attempted to get the recipe from the tepachero (tepache vendor) despite a language barrier. Rev Nat’s version is a 3.2% ABV, a slight kick from traditional tepache. The bottle design features a radiating, giant pineapple and a wordmark in that familiar hand-painted street sign style that other tepache brands use. Rev Nat’s packaging also recommends mixing with beer, a typical beer cocktail in Mexico; the City of Roses is far from Veracruz, but Rev Nat’s bottle design gives it a little bit of that Mexican street vibe.

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So how can tepache plant a flag in the RTD market? Excellent product, of course, but also by touting some of the commonalities tepache has with beverages. Sure, it's fizzy and light, but you can also sway health-minded consumers with its pre/probiotic content. And there's always the low-alcohol and mixer market waiting for a tasty newcomer.

And Gustavo’s advice for RTD tepache brands?

“Sell tepache as a refreshing, crisp, ‘authentic,’ and ‘new’ Mexican beverage," he says. "Americans have always been obsessed with Mexican-food-anything, so this is just a natural evolution!”

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