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Bacardi is leading the rise of rum back to high-class status

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Long plagued by its “pirates and punch” image, rum’s experiencing a resurgence – and like bourbon, gin and tequila before it, Bacardi is betting the storied molasses-based spirit will prove the latest category to trend upscale.

Written by Chris Metler

Beyond claiming a considerable chunk of Canada’s 37-million-plus population, Ontario represents one of the most predominant purchasers of alcoholic beverages on the planet. So says the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the sole retail outfit licenced to sell liquor throughout the province. And today, the Crown corporation’s seeing premium and deluxe segments across all product categories furiously outpace their standard priced counterparts.

“72 percent of our incremental growth for spirits is driven by them, with customers showcasing a preference in drinking better,” reveals Stacee Roth, LCBO’s Director of Spirits. Deluxe spirits lead the charge, although premiums don’t linger far behind. She indicates rum is presently the third-largest spirits division, accounting for CAD $276-million in annual revenue. What’s more, that it’s the second-fastest rising premium segment.

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Meanwhile, south of the border, despite total rum quantities in the United States having declined in the past four years, premium variants surged 34 percent over that same period. A statistic which commands particular attention because, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, they made up a tiny fraction of volume in 2017.

As consumers seek complexity and develop sophisticated palates, the figures emphasize the immense potential augmentation opportunity rum boasts. Roth forecasts the sky’s the limit. “It will take time given current size and scale, but with continued innovation and education, I’m confident we’ll see rum shine!”

Enter Bacardi’s recently introduced portfolio of premium rums — Añejo Cuatro, Reserva Ocho, Gran Reserva Diez and Gran Reserva Limitada — each aged anywhere between four to at least twelve years. They’re crafted to advantageously spotlight high-grade sugarcane molasses, purified water from Puerto Rico and La Levadura Bacardi: a single-strain yeast originally cultivated in Cuba. To promote the same level of depth and character as a whisky or scotch. To combat the common misconception rum belongs in mixed tropical drinks. To push the category in an elevated direction.

Bacardi rum
Bacardi has contemplated this upscale territory before, previously unveiling the Facundo collection. Only this finally constitutes a clear-cut commitment to seizing the market. And why not? Premium rum reflects merely 15 percent of its bracket. Growing this number to even 25 percent, the world’s biggest privately held, family-operated spirits company estimates it’d be worth hundreds (and hundreds) of millions of dollars to the industry.

Closing that distance could prove easier said than done. Sure, roughly a third of premium-spirits consumers imbibe rum, however research suggests they tend to trade down. To encourage said consumers to trade up, Bacardi acknowledges the principal challenge entails schooling them about the quality that goes into producing their premium line, so they understand why it merits paying more for. It’s a helluva test for a label globally recognized by its eponymous, lower-cost white rum, matured just a year. “This is a new chapter,” confesses Brendan McDonough, Bacardi Canada’s Senior Brand Manager.

Penetrating the contemporary cocktail renaissance is crucial. After all, Bacardi’s philosophy is building brands in the bar, not the boardroom. Except ever since classic cocktails started dramatically returning to favour, rum’s sat on the sidelines.

Robin Goodfellow holds historically congested manufacturing processes accountable, thereby creating huge markups. The co-owner of two boundlessly buzzy Toronto saloons — Bar Raval and Prettyugly — asserts this has contributed to an overall lack of discernment out there. “Premium rum shouldn’t mean expensive rum. Bacardi Reserva Ocho is well-priced for what you get,” he counters.

 

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Choosing rum comes down to education,” elaborates Alana Nogueda, partner at the rum-splashed Shameful Tiki Room in Toronto and Vancouver. The notion seconds Roth’s and McDonough’s earlier assessments. By incorporating age statements to communicate the lifespan of the liquid in any container, in addition to fostering informed buyer decisions, she argues Bacardi’s already set the track for course correction. “Maintaining transparency is major,” Nogueda clarifies. “As people come to know more of what different aging methods offer, we’re likely to see them reaching for rums positioned as premium.”

Bacardi is obviously banking on as much. And though it still remains to be seen if their premium rums can successfully cater to a class of consumers who’ll spend thirty or forty to eighty bucks on a bottle of hooch, McDonough is bullish. “Bacardi’s been the leader in the category for 156 years and premiumization is the next frontier,” he posits. “We are uniquely qualified to spearhead this movement.”