Rum is ripe and ready to be the next category to hit the super-premium, high-end” segment of the spirits business, says Mike Avitable, vice president and marketing director at Marie Brizard Wines and Spirits, the marketer of Gosling’s Black Seal, an 80-proof black rum from Bermuda that retails for about $15 for a 750 ml.

Increasingly, rum marketers of all stripes are turning their attention to fast-developing niches for flavored rums, aged rums and higher-priced expressions.

The rationale for this is evident across a broad spectrum of consumer products, from kiwi-flavored Jello to multi-ethnic cuisine and a wide and seemingly endless array of uniquely flavored non-alcohol beverages. Consumers are searching for flavor as well as prestige “badge” brands. It’s a trend that has been making waves in other spirits categories as well, notably vodka and tequila. After all, notes Avitable, vodka and tequila have evolved over the past decade or so from “well brands” to high-image ultra-premiums. “The most amazing thing is vodka selling for $30 a bottle.” So why not rum? Why not, indeed.

In fact, Cruzan’s Single Barrel Estate Rum, for example, retails for approximately $30 a bottle while its 5-year-old Estate Diamond retails for about $15 per 750 ml. And “Bacardi 8,” a Puerto Rican rum aged for eight years which was introduced last year, retails for about $21 a 750 ml while Casa Bacardi sells for close to $40, Appleton 12-year-old retails for approximately $18 and Mount Gay Extra Old is priced at about $35. There are, or course, many other specialty rums (Barbancourt, Ron Bocoy, Ron Barillito, Lemon Hart, Myers’s, Pusser’s, and Pampero among them) from a variety of producers. There is also at least one rum — Pyrat Cask 23, which is produced in Anguilla and imported by SMS, Ltd. of Las Vegas — selling for as much as $260 per hand-blown 750 ml decanter. But the real significance is consumers’ growing appreciation, and increased buying, of more complex, refined and expensive rums.

“We are concentrating on high-end ultra-premium rums because those consumers have already decided they want something handmade and unique,” explains Tom Valdes, a longtime Bacardi executive who is now president of Todhunter Imports, the marketer of Cruzan rums. Todhunter is preparing to launch the “Cruzan Estate Collection” this fall which includes rums prominently displaying “2” year-old and “5” year-old age designations on their labels. Produced in St. Croix, all of Cruzan’s rums are aged in oak a minimum of two years.

On the flavored rum front, Todhunter is developing a new sub-segment with its Cruzan fruit-flavored entries (coconut, pineapple, banana and orange). “I think flavors are going to take a big share of white rum,” says Valdes. In part, because it has an easy and somewhat familiar taste profile that will appeal to “a lot women and a lot of people who don’t like to drink a lot.” Todhunter also has Cruzan Junkanu, a citrus-flavored rum.

Valdes says Cruzan flavored rums “have been growing at 88% a year and we’re approaching sales of 200,000 cases on a rolling 12-month basis.” Cruzan has been doing extensive off-premise sampling in Florida and expects to expand this tactic into the 14 states where it is permitted. Todhunter is also marketing a 4-pack of 50 ml-bottles to encourage consumer sampling. “We’re on a (sales growth) pace with Cruzan to do what Captain Morgan did years ago” when it was introduced, he says.

Captain Morgan, meanwhile, remains the 800-pound gorilla of flavored rum, having defined and dominated the segment since its introduction in 1983. This spiced rum continues to evolve, however, having successfully introduced its Parrot Bay (coconut flavor) line extension and its super-premium Captain Morgan Private Stock in 1996.

“The rum category overall is getting stronger,” notes Laura Goldenberg, category manager for rum at Seagram Americas. “But the incredible growth and the increased dynamism in the category is coming from flavors and Captain Morgan’s success.” According to Adams Handbook Advance, sales of Captain Morgan were up more than 13% last year. This year, for the first time, Seagram is running TV spots in the U.S. for Captain Morgan.

At the same time, Goldenberg recognizes that “there is also a slowly developing area in ultra-premiums which, over time, will become more of an important” segment within the rum category “and consumers are starting to learn about it.” Positioning itself to capitalize on this emerging trend, Seagram introduced its “Rare Rums of the Caribbean” collection into southwest markets last year. “These rums are all about sipping and they appeal to the connoisseur,” says Goldenberg. “It’s a whole different proposition” than the fun-adventure-good-times concept behind Captain Morgan.

Meanwhile, the rum category’s true giant, Bacardi, which, with its broad portfolio, accounts for about half of total rum consumption in the U.S., is powering ahead on several fronts. Bacardi Lim


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