Stealing Market Share
How can light rum compete with and take market share from vodka and Tequila? Brand reps have a number of ideas about tactics.
“Light rum can compete by focusing on its democratic taste profile—easy to drink, palatable character and mixability—because it mixes well with everything,” offers Bermudez at Bacardi.
“Rum needs to premiumize in the consumer’s mind to compete in the occasions where tequila and vodka are consumed,” insists Paul-Garnier. Brugal’s Extra Dry is aged two to five years in former American whiskey casks, then triple-filtered. “Right now, most consumers don’t even think about drinking light rum. It is not in the consideration set.”
“Light rums are going after the crossover category; the people who are drinking vodka or Tequila,” Culic says. Mezan’s XO is aged but has a lighter profile. The expression’s mixability has made it the best-seller in the portfolio, driven by consumption in cocktails.
“Light rum marries perfectly with just about any flavor profile that Tequila and vodka are using,” Eason says. As examples, he cites rum-based riffs on the Margarita and the Moscow Mule employing Don Q Cristal Rum. Although aged one year in barrel, the light Cristal is Don Q’s flagship expression.
“The key in competing with vodka and Tequila is about breaking up consumer habits,” Farmer says. “Vodka is often a go-to spirit for many consumers and by showing them ways to utilize light rum in cocktails they’re accustomed to, we can start to break the habit.”
Generally speaking, light rums have different drinking occasions, dissimilar consumer sets and targeted marketing, when compared to dark rums.
All Bacardi rums are aged, both light and dark, Bermudez says. “However, there are differences in the occasion, so our activation is targeted.” Marketing of the light side of the portfolio communicates mixability. “Light rum drinkers are often younger and in the earlier stages of exploring rum. They’re looking for unique, fun and easy ways to enjoy the spirit and exciting experiences to enjoy simple rum cocktails,” he says. For Bacardi rums as a whole, 80% of sales are off-premise and 20% are on-premise.
“People may start out with light rum, then graduate to more complex dark rums as their palates mature,” Culic says. But consumption also depends upon occasion. “If people want to relax and unwind, in a high-energy occasion, or on vacation, they probably still want a cocktail made with white rum.” She estimates that Mezan sales skew towards the on-premise side, where bartenders influence customers with innovative cocktails. The on/off-premise mix ranges from 70/30 to 60/40, depending on the market.
“Healthy on-premise sales are key to driving off-premise sales,” notes Farmer, who estimates Blue Chair Bay’s sales are 80% off-premise and 20% on-premise. However, the focus for 2016 is to target more on-premise accounts. The brand’s marketing support includes activation around Kenny Chesney’s “Spread the Love Tour,” a sponsorship of 100-plus events nationwide, with continuous press outreach, consumer sampling events, and consumer and trade advertising.
“For centuries, rum was the pirates’ beverage of preference. Then rum became fun, with lots of tropical and exotic mixes,” Esquivel says. “Nowadays, rum is gaining respect as a noble spirit, produced in modern distilleries, but with ancient production procedures.”
Rum producers use rum’s exotic image and fun associations to bring the experience of exotic destinations home to consumers, while also trying to create new drinking occasions for the spirit, Farmer says. For example, Blue Chair Bay is bringing rum to the tailgate scene by hosting pre-concert tailgate parties at Kenny Chesney’s concerts.
“The image of rum is going through a transition,” Culic believes. There is a greater focus on high-end and superpremium pricing tiers, and a movement away from mainstream brands towards boutique products like Mezan. “White rums can be great for sipping as well as mixing,” she points out.
“Momentum in the rum category has just begun,” Esquivel says. It’s up to producers to maintain the quality and nobility of the spirit. “It’s for sure a ‘rumilicious’ future for the consumer.”
Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with over 20 years experience covering the beverage and restaurant industries. In his small apartment-turned-alchemist-den, he homebrews beer kombucha, and concocts his own bitters and infusions.