Agave Lux Business Profile & Interview with the Founders
Challenges and successes for a small-but-global business
From London to Jalisco to Australia, Agave Lux is a business with truly global roots. This company, dedicated to the import and distribution of premium agave spirits, was conceived with the purpose of enlightening consumers about the captivating world of traditional Mexican spirits.
Business owners Justin Kosmina and Howard Baynie embarked on a challenging journey to introduce lesser-known agave spirits like Sotol, Raicilla and Bacanora to the previously untapped Australian market.
Their endeavour has been a labour of love, and thus far, a resounding success.
A journey led by passion
Justin, originally from Adelaide, with a background in hospitality, was living in London in 2015. It was there that he recognised an opportunity to educate consumers about the relatively obscure domain of agave spirits.
“I fell in love with the agricultural elements of wine and spirits,” he says. “And I saw an opportunity to actually educate consumers about high-quality, artisanal spirits that truly encapsulate the essence of craftsmanship.
“I bought into a distillery in Mexico in 2015 called Estancia Raicilla. The intention was to be a brand owner and use that platform to educate consumers around the world of how to, one, drink better tequila, and two, that there’s more to the space than just Tequila.
“From there, we brought on a couple of Mezcal brands, plus Raicilla and Sotol brands, and really used that to educate.”
Thinking beyond boundaries
Justin and Howard swiftly realised that a single Raicilla brand, no matter how premium, wouldn’t provide a substantial enough platform to realise their dream of popularising agave spirits worldwide. They established a company for importing and selling to distributors in London, collaborating with a distributor to reach consumers and begin the process of educating them.
When Justin returned to Australia in 2016, the business evolved into its third iteration as Agave Lux, allowing them to bring the spirits they cherished directly to Australian consumers.
Despite their initial intent to steer clear of distribution and importation, adapting their approach granted them greater leverage to achieve their primary objective: educating consumers about agave spirits.
Justin affirms, “We’ve always truly led with education. The general consumer thinks Tequila is the category. So they’re like, ‘Oh, Tequila, great.’ They don’t understand that it’s just part of the agave category.
“The category that we bought into with Estancia Raicilla is a small part of agave spirits, but has a really beautiful and rich history behind it. We’ve always been in the market of educating on what the category of agave is. And then as a result of the quality of product that we have, we’ll get our share of opportunity within that. We’re always looking to grow the category of agave – and you can see that within our portfolio, because our portfolio up until recently has been everything but Tequila.”
Tequila, with a Designation of Origin in Jalisco, is made from blue agave and is made under fairly strictly regulated production methods. This is the agave spirit that most people in the world are familiar with.
Mezcal, which is becoming more popular globally, is made with various types of agave and production methods, and has a smokey flavour that comes from roasting the agave hearts. The Raicilla Justin mentions is traditionally produced in the Jalisco region, using various agave types and production techniques that result in earthy and complex flavours, while Sotol, hailing from northern Mexico, exclusively uses the Desert Spoon agave, offering milder, herbal notes. Bacanora, meanwhile, which was illegal to produce until 1992, can only be made from agave Pacifica in the state of Sonora.
Navigating the challenges of the unfamiliar
Introducing less familiar agave spirits to the market presented its own set of challenges. While consumers in Australia are well-acquainted with Tequila, other agave spirits remain relatively unfamiliar and consequently, more challenging to promote.
Justin found that not having a Tequila in their portfolio was the biggest hindrance to growing the company.
“If you have a big Tequila brand, that gives you the ability to get into more doors – people would go, ‘Yeah let’s have a conversation’ straight away. When you taste a Raicilla with a consumer, they love the product but they don’t know what to do with it because it’s such an unknown category.
“If we’d had a Tequila brand early, obviously you’ve got a bigger brand, a bigger space to work with and you can reinvest that into more brands, you could grow at a faster pace.”
However, they’re overcoming the challenges of truly growing a category and have no regrets about sticking to their guns. Agave Lux has even released an interactive, AI agave quiz to guide users towards the agave spirit that best matches their current tastes and drinking habits.
“We’re having some great growth,” he says.
One of the most important things Justin emphasises about their business success, is how they focus on people and the significance of being part of a community. Justin’s initial exposure to agave spirits was facilitated through a longstanding friendship, which provided him with the opportunity to invest in Estancia Raicilla in 2015.
This human connection has remained a vital aspect of their journey. Agave Lux predominantly features agave spirit brands from smaller, independent producers they’ve encountered through their existing connections.
Justin explains, “It’s a beautiful community of people in Mexico and we’re lucky because – although we don’t live there – we are an owner of a brand there, which supports us to become part of the community.
“If you look at our brands, you can see most have a connection to one another along the way. It’s really nice to continue to support true local independent producers around Mexico and be part of that community.”
Justin and Howard brought various professional skills and experiences to the table, and they’ve discovered that their personal attributes provide a perfect balance. Justin’s ability to build rapport and engage people, making them feel part of something greater, complements Howard’s structured and business-focused approach.
They share a relentless determination to achieve their goals, navigating the challenges that come with operating a small business.
Celebrating the journey
Since their initial investment in Estancia Raicilla eight years ago, Justin and Howard’s passion project has evolved into Howard’s full-time occupation within Agave Lux. They have employed two full-time salespeople and established a back-of-house team to support various business functions. Justin regards this as one of the most thrilling milestones for their business.
Nonetheless, they don’t only commemorate significant accomplishments. Early in their journey with Estancia Raicilla, Justin and Howard decided to celebrate all the minor victories along the way.
Justin reflects, “Howard and I talk about always making sure that you celebrate the little wins along the journey. You don’t always do that because you get caught up in the day to day and then the growth pains that you have as a small business.
“There was a moment recently that we just took a step back and said, ‘Well, have a look at what we’ve built.’”