A STORM OF CHANGE is on the horizon for white rum. The Havana Club trademark is a hot topic of debate which continues to rage. Since beginning to write this feature, half a dozen press releases have been distributed with counter statements to the litigation announcement and what – if it finally happens – this could mean for Pernod Ricard and the category as a whole. When Barack Obama visited Cuba in March, he became the first US president to have done so in more than 50 years. It’s a momentous time, but first let’s concentrate on the category picture right now – everything else is a distant figure on the horizon.
White rum is in historical decline and it’s forecast to stutter for another two years. The category reported volume and value decline in five of its top 10 international markets in the five-year period from 2009-14, according to Euromonitor International. Globally, during this time it was up a mere 1% in volume and down 2% in value.
“The explosion of brown spirits has overshadowed the importance and relevance of white spirits (including not only rum, but vodka as well),” says Mauricio Bermudez, director of marketing at Bacardi Rums.
“The proliferation of flavoured white spirits overflowed the markets and drove the collapse of the white category across all price tiers. A lack of consumer understanding between various white spirits and knowing when it is best to use each – for example, when to use a rum instead of a vodka in certain cocktails – also added to the challenges facing white rums.”
Patrick Rabion, Diplomático rum export director, says rum producers have realised that there is an opportunity to diversify the white rum offering, and have started to develop this category.
“Things have been evolving in recent years, thanks to the premiumisation of the rum category, and in particular the dark rum segment. Consumers are becoming more educated and are discovering new ways to appreciate rum, which is now competing directly with traditional sipping spirits such as cognac and whisky,” he says.
The rise of dark/aged rum has increased awareness of the overall category, according to Bermudez. “It has introduced new consumers to the world of rum. Many of whom are white spirit drinkers or traditionally enjoy white spirit cocktails, along with appreciating a great sipping spirit every now and again.
“By increasing category awareness and consumer base, the decline of white rum will slowly stabilise as these consumers discover rums within this subcategory that fulfil their white spirit expectations, as well as the diverse experiences to be found within the different styles in the category.”
Ben Jones, North America regional director for Rhum Clément, says rum itself is in an interesting space at the moment. He says: “Overall the category is flat but the most successful rums are driving growth but from a very small base. Value and standard volumes are going down. They are big pieces of the overall pie. Overall in the rum market there’s a tremendous amount of interest and buzz with people who are very much into rum.”