Mark Wahlberg is known for a lot of things—acting, producing, and modeling being high on the list—and now he’s diving into the Tequila space in a unique way, with a hefty investment in Flecha Azul Tequila and a commitment to supporting the brand in a way that’s unlike most of his celebrity peers. Wahlberg is more than simply the face of the brand. In fact, he’s trying hard not to be the face at all, choosing instead to use his celebrity to open doors for Flecha Azul’s co-founders, Mexican entrepreneur Aron Marquez and Mexican-American professional golfer Abraham Ancer.
Marquez and Ancer launched Flecha Azul in 2020 and Wahlberg came on as a principal investor in 2022. The trio became fast friends, and today they travel the country together in between movie productions, golf tournaments, and other commitments to promote their Tequila. An entrepreneur in several other industries, Wahlberg is like any other fledgling spirits owner, meeting with restaurant and retail accounts himself to show off the product and conduct tastings. The primary difference is that he’s an A-list star who attracts a crowd everywhere he goes. Wahlberg knows he’s not the first celebrity to dabble in Tequila, but he’s committed to doing it differently.
“Obviously, the Tequila space is on fire and there’s a lot of celebrities getting involved,” Wahlberg says, admitting that when he was initially presented with the idea of working on Flecha Azul he wasn’t interested. But, he added in an exclusive interview with Market Watch, the authenticity of the product and the Mexican heritage of its founders is what ultimately lured him in. “When I was approached to be the face of it, it wasn’t appealing to me,” Wahlberg says. “Once I realized what they’d created and who created it, that’s when the lightbulb went on. Instead of saying ‘I’ve created a Tequila’ like a lot of celebrities are doing, why not shine the spotlight on the guys who are authentically creating something that’s personal and that they absolutely have complete ownership of. People appreciate that I’m not coming up with some outlandish story about how I’ve been cultivating agave plants in the desert for the last seven years. We have a real quality, premium, authentic Mexican Tequila created by Mexicans.”
Flecha Azul depleted 32,788 cases in 2022 and is on pace to at least double that volume this year, according to the brand’s ownership team, Dallas-based Wes Brands. Distributed by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits in most of the United States, Flecha Azul’s owners have lofty goals of ultimately making the Tequila one of the most recognizable on the market and moving 1 million cases annually. The portfolio includes five expressions—Blanco ($45 a 750-ml.), Reposado ($55), Añejo ($65), Cristalino ($115), and Extra Añejo ($320)—all produced by the historic Orendain family in Jalisco, Mexico. The Orendains are among the founding fathers in Tequila, with production at their family distillery starting a century ago and patriarch Don Eduardo Orendain listed as a founding member of the Tequila Regulatory Council, which oversees all Tequila production to this day.
“Out of all the Tequilas out there, very few are Mexican owned and founded,” says Marquez. “Mark does an incredible job of putting us and our culture forward, and has pushed the message that Flecha Azul is Mexican owned and founded, and supported by him. There have been other celebrities who want to enter the space and they’ve reached out to the Orendain family because of the quality of their Tequila. But the Orendains are not working with anyone else. They support us because we want to promote our tradition and heritage. Mark’s platform has really helped our brand grow, along with the quality of the liquid.”
For Ancer, Flecha Azul’s authenticity is a key differentiator in the crowded Tequila category, along with its truly Mexican taste profile. The golfer says he and Marquez share a similar enthusiasm for their heritage, and they’re hoping that shines through with Flecha Azul. “We’re both really passionate about our Mexican roots and thought there was no better way to honor that than through Tequila,” Ancer explains. “We wanted to create an elegant brand that stayed true to our culture but also tasted great. I’m proud to say that Flecha Azul is one of the few Mexican owned and operated Tequilas in the world. When you taste it, you can tell the difference.”
Though they’re from different parts of the world, Wahlberg, Marquez, and Ancer come from similarly humble backgrounds. Wahlberg’s is relatively well known: He grew up in Boston and had a checkered past, dabbling in music before turning to acting and television production. Today, he’s well-known for his starring roles in the “Transformers” movies and in films like “The Departed” and “The Fighter,” as well as for his television work with “Entourage,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Ballers.” Marquez, meanwhile, was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. at age 11. He’s a self-made entrepreneur and has found business success in the oil industry. And Ancer, who was born in Texas, is a first-generation Mexican-American and professional golfer who has played on the PGA and LIV golf tours. Wahlberg didn’t earn his high school diploma until he was in his 40s and both Marquez and Ancer are the first in their families to graduate from college. These days, the trio often meets on the golf course.
Marquez and Ancer began taking trips to Jalisco in 2017 to explore the possibility of launching their own Tequila brand, as they were unimpressed with many of the more well-known labels already available in the U.S. “The Tequilas becoming popular weren’t traditionally made, they had a strong taste of caramel and additives,” Marquez says. “We decided to bring our culture to the U.S. and introduce a Tequila that’s additive free and made the way it’s traditionally made back home.”
He adds that Flecha Azul stands out in the Tequila space because of its origin story and authenticity. “We only use 7-year-old agave plants,” Marquez explains, adding that many popular brands today cut corners by using younger agaves, some as young as 3 years old. “We harvest it by hand and cut the agave down the middle to remove the middle part, which is what typically makes the product bitter. That allows us to not have to add sugar or coloring. It’s an extensive process.”
Indeed, Flecha Azul’s production is arduous, but it’s a labor of love. Its 100% Blue Weber agave is grown on the Orendain estate in the lowlands of Jalisco, along the slopes of the Volcán de Colima volcano. The agave piñas—the hearts of the plant used to produce Tequila—are cooked in traditional masonry ovens, and the Tequilas are aged in ex-Bourbon oak barrels. The brand’s name is inspired, in part, from the production process. The jimadores who work in the agave fields use a sharp coa—a machete-like knife with a rounded edge—to cut the agave. At the start of each session, they remind themselves to sharpen their “flecha” so the work is easier. Flecha translates to “arrow” in English, and when hearing it on distillery visits, Marquez recalled a meaningful saying. “Hearing the world ‘flecha’ in the agave fields reminded me of a quote that an arrow must be pulled backward to launch forward,” he explains. “We come from humble beginnings and that was very relatable to us.” Further, “azul” translates to “blue” in English, a nod to the agave plant used to make the Tequila.
The care that goes into making Flecha Azul was another key attractor for Wahlberg, who’s well-known as a fitness buff and regularly promotes an active lifestyle. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but my approach has always revolved around health and wellness, and being able to work hard and enjoy yourself,” Wahlberg says. “I see the benefits of Tequila.”
Wahlberg was also impressed with the dedication of Marquez and Ancer, and the fact that they were aligned with the Orendain family. The actor traveled to Jalisco personally to meet with the Orendains and learn about the Tequila production process. “I really love what they’ve created in their personal lives and their business, as well as what they’re creating in the Tequila space,” Wahlberg says. “All of the people I work with in my other various businesses also have a connection to spirits and beverages, and that began a long journey for me of doing due diligence and spending time with everyone involved, and of going to Jalisco to see the entire operation. The Orendain family had taken [Marquez and Ancer] as their first Tequila outside of their own products to distill, and that’s because of the quality of the product they created and the quality of the human beings these guys are.”
Though he doesn’t carry a formal title at Flecha Azul, Wahlberg considers himself to be the brand’s primary ambassador and chief marketing agent. And those are roles he doesn’t take lightly. “I’m out here getting everybody who would ever want to consume Tequila or sell Tequila to know the brand and help them differentiate what a real premium, authentic, and additive-free Tequila is supposed to taste like,” he says. “I like to utilize the best of my time. If I’m sitting on a movie set in Louisiana, I think, ‘Who’s the biggest distributor?’ or ‘What’s the best restaurant here?’ And I’ll go knock on doors, introduce myself, and introduce the product.”
Wahlberg has sat in on Zoom calls with state officials and traveled far distances to meet with retail executives interested in the product. So far, Flecha Azul is doing well in Kroger, Total Wine & More, and Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods stores, and Wahlberg has visited all three accounts. He signs bottles for the public at many of these meet-and-greets, much to the delight of his fans. “We want to be able to show the retailers what kind of partners we can be and what kind of excitement we can drum up, and that we’re willing to go to any extent for the brand,” Wahlberg says. “We make sure to talk to the buyers and category managers, we’re not trying to cut corners. We have relationships with people in the weeds who understand what consumers are looking for and how to connect with them. We’re in it for the long haul.”
Wahlberg is similarly minded with restaurant and bar accounts, too, often visiting with back-of-house staff to make sure they taste the Tequila. Flecha Azul has placement in on-premise accounts like La Neta Cocina Y Lounge in Dallas, Bice Palm Beach in Florida, and Dos Caminos in New York City. “My first job was a dishwasher and I took immense pride in that,” Wahlberg says. “If you want people to taste Tequila, you better give it to the people who know about Tequila. The guys in the kitchen, the chefs, cooks, and waiters, those are the people who know. Those are the reactions you want and they will tell you the truth.”
Of course, there’s no denying the power of celebrity, and Wahlberg’s stardom is a contributing factor in Flecha Azul’s growing success. Marquez notes that when Wahlberg posts something about the brand on his social media channels, it can get upwards of 10 million likes in just a few days, and that his reach extends far beyond the social media platform. “We needed someone who could help us and who had a tremendous network to get our message and branding out there, somebody who understood what we were doing,” Marquez says. “Mark is a visionary. He understands how to market the product and how to embrace it so it doesn’t seem like he’s marketing anything. He believes in Flecha Azul and he understands the strategic plan and how to make relationships. He has tremendous reach.”
Ancer adds that he and Marquez weren’t initially set on bringing in a partner, especially a well-known celebrity, but the decision has proven to be a good one. “When we met Mark, the partnership felt natural,” he says. “We quickly bonded over our humble beginnings and similar upbringings.”
While Wahlberg has no plans to transition from a marketing role into a distiller or a more technical spirits producer, he does provide occasional insight into brand management and where he thinks Flecha Azul should be headed. One of his recent areas of focus has been a packaging revamp for the Cristalino and Extra Añejo expressions, to help those highest-end marques stand out, especially in nightlife venues for bottle service programs. The new packaging will launch later this year. “I defer to them on every aspect when it comes to the product, and when it comes to marketing and how we create relationships and build partnerships they defer to me,” Wahlberg says. “We support each other 100% and enjoy and respect each other. I have huge admiration for these guys and what they’ve created.”
So far, Blanco is the top seller for Flecha Azul, followed closely by Reposado. Getting placement for those expressions on cocktail menus is a high priority in furthering Flecha Azul’s growth. International expansion is also in the works. The brand recently rolled out in Mexico and Canada, giving it good reach in the Americas, and opportunities in Europe are developing, as well.
Given the handcrafted nature of premium Tequila and the lengthy time required to properly grow and harvest agave, scalability and supply are common worries. But Marquez and Ancer are both confident in Flecha Azul’s growth potential. “We’ll be able to scale this brand to any volume without working with multiple distilleries,” Marquez explains, once again crediting the Orendain family and their relationship with him and his partners. “For a lot of larger Tequilas, they work with eight or nine distilleries to get product out there. But with the Orendain family, we can scale to any volume and keep our quality the same and not have to seek someone else to support our product. That consistency is incredible.”
Ancer adds that there are no limits for Flecha Azul. “Whenever we share Flecha Azul with new people, they always say it tastes like nothing they’ve ever had before,” the golfer says. “We’re excited to keep the momentum going and get Flecha worldwide.”
Wahlberg brings a level of consistency and energy that will be a boon going forward. After all, he’s invested in the brand not as a celebrity spokesperson but as a partial owner who benefits financially when the Tequila’s distribution grows. “That’s one of the biggest misconceptions: People think Mark came in and offered his name and likeness,” Marquez says. “But no, he wrote a check, and a big check. He’s putting his money where his mouth is.”
And in the world of celebrity Tequila, that has the potential to be a big differentiator. “There’s a difference between someone who’s getting paid to endorse something and someone who has real skin in the game and who owns the product,” Wahlberg says. “Now you know why I work so hard.”