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Exclusive: Jim Clerkin Named Chairman Of Onda Sparkling Tequila

May 6, 2021

Positioned at the intersection of two white-hot categories—Tequila and premixed cocktails—Onda Sparkling Tequila has had a fast start since launching last summer. Made with blanco Tequila, sparkling water, and real fruit juice, the 5% abv RTD brand retails at $11 a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans and is already distributed across 15 states. With growth accelerating, Onda has assembled a team of industry veterans to help guide its trajectory. Former Moët Hennessy North America chief executive Jim Clerkin has been named chairman, and Deep Eddy founder Clayton Christopher has also joined the board. Dan Liguori, formerly of Mark Anthony Brands, is senior vice president of sales and strategy, and Lauren Haas, who previously led marketing at Babe wine, is senior director of marketing. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller spoke with Clerkin to get the latest on the fast-emerging franchise.

SND: Why was joining Onda an attractive opportunity?

Clerkin: It all started when two of the founders, Noah Gray (CEO) and Max Dworin (COO), came to see me when I was in charge of mergers and acquisitions at Moët Hennessy. I was attracted to the fact that Onda is Tequila-based, because there’s no category hotter than that right now in America. It wasn’t the right fit at the time for Moët Hennessy, but we kept in touch and I’d occasionally give them a bit of advice, typically on the distribution side. We became friendly, and eventually they called and asked if I’d like to become the chairman. When I got some samples of the product, I really loved the packaging, which is outstanding in the sense that it has these very bright colors that give it instant standout on the shelf. But the biggest part is what’s in the can. A lot of products in the hard seltzer category don’t actually taste that good. This Tequila-based product tasted beautiful. It’s sparkling, with agave notes, and is clean and refreshing. So the combination of getting to know and become friendly with the founders and loving the product—because I can’t do anything if I don’t believe in it—and the fact that it has a Tequila base, made it something I couldn’t say no to.

SND: Onda is clearly targeting the better-for-you segment with a relatively low abv, zero sugar and carbs, and 100 calories a can.

Clerkin: That’s the sweet spot. People from LDA up to 35 or so are looking for healthier drinks, less sugar, fewer calories, and this one delivers on all of those angles. Even though it’s quite new, it’s already in the hundreds of thousands of 24-pack cases, which from a standing start is really impressive. We’ll be releasing a couple new flavors this summer, which will create a bit of excitement of well.

SND: What’s the distribution strategy for Onda?

Clerkin: They’ve been careful with the rollout, not trying to go national right away. They’re trying to hothouse it places like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, California, and it’s really starting to take off in Texas, which isn’t really a surprise given that market’s affinity for Tequila. Those are the big markets so far. Distribution-wise it’s been going through the spirits wholesaler network, and down the road we may look to enter the convenience channel as well.

SND: Onda also has a celebrity co-founder in Canadian-born actress Shay Mitchell, known for her work in “Pretty Little Liars,” among other roles. What does she bring to the brand?

Clerkin: Shay is a co-founder and the chief brand officer of Onda. And she’s not just the face of the brand. It’s really part of her lifestyle, and she shares it with her fans, including almost 30 million followers on Instagram.

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