Rhum agricole seeking a new audience

25 January, 2023

Producers need to switch up their educational efforts around the sugarcane spirit to broaden its appeal.

For years we’ve talked about rhum agricole being the next ‘big thing’, yet we’re still waiting for some cataclysmic event which propels it into the mainstream. In 2014 cachaça was expected to flourish off the back of the World Cup in Brazil as well as the Olympic Games two years later, but no matter how many travelling fans enjoyed Caipirinhas, the spirit didn’t blossom in the long term as many hoped it would.

Just last year, Drinks International’s Oli Dodd insisted that agricole, which, like cachaça, is made from sugarcane juice, ought to be appreciated and respected as much as mezcal, which has gained a significant following among hipsters and bartenders. From a brand perspective, the rhetoric from agricole brands has been to invest in education in order to grow the sector, but perhaps these efforts have been directed to the same crowd over and over instead of tapping into new audiences – preaching to the choir, should you need the metaphor.

Rhum JM on the island of Martinique is aware of this issue and, to help combat it, recently launched its EDDEN Project (Engagés pour le Développement Durable de nos Écosystèmes et de notre Nature). While nearly every premium spirits producer now has a sustainability framework in place, the EDDEN Project is one of the most thorough and all-round within the industry – but as well as ticking corporate boxes, it may expose the brand to new faces. In order to create the fully rounded programme, Rhum JM partnered with sustainability consultant Linkup Factory.

Illuminating audit

Philippe Raffin, executive vice president of Linkup Factory, says in a report to Bevnet: “Working with companies such as Nestlé, Heineken, and Pepsico, we conducted a similar audit. The findings were illuminating, especially in comparison to other distilleries. The distillery has demanding and sophisticated farming practices, which are quite difficult in tropical regions. Strict prohibitions of pesticides and herbicides are in place and the labour force is French, part of the EU, therefore commanding fair wages and social benefits such as access to education, healthcare, and paid leave.”

Raffin adds: “Massive investments had already been made, especially in low-emission furnaces and distillation apparatuses, which is unique. What’s more, they have a strong willingness to continue to progress. They have a natural sincerity and dedication for sustainability as one coming from such a small island should have.”

Dave Marsland, UK ambassador for Spiribam, which imports Rhum JM and Rhum Clement from Martinique, told Drinks International that the EDDEN Project aims to attract people to the rhum agricole category from outside the industry through the likes of horticulturalists and environmentalists who will relate well with the programme.

“It’s fair to say that not much has changed for agricole as a category in recent times, but I think we need to be targeting people outside the industry without backgrounds in drinking. Right now volumes of agricole are going up, albeit slowly, but it’s largely due to entering new markets rather than building momentum in existing ones.”

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