Rhum agricole seeking a new audience

25 January, 2023

The French island of Martinique remains the mecca of the agricole sector with its strict and traditional production methods defined by its AOC. The biggest USP for agricole is that it’s made from sugarcane juice rather than molasses. However, in recent years there’s been a new wave of sugarcane juice rums coming to market. Renegade on the Caribbean island of Grenada is one of the most poignant examples and two years ago I made a case for these new producers boosting the presence of cane juice rums globally, and in-turn agricole, but the attitude from AOC brands has been different.

Peter Holland, who created The Floating Rum Shack, is a leading figure in the agricole sector and believes that traditional producers remain precious over their categorisation.

“Agricole producers in Martinique with AOC status have worked hard to establish their category over a number of years and it demands premium price points. Therefore, with a rising number of cane juice rums hitting the market, they want to remain separate, which is understandable. The other element is that just because a rum is made from cane juice doesn’t guarantee quality, whereas being in an AOC does.”

Palate differences

Despite the UK being one of the strongest markets for premium spirits, agricole has always struggled. Marsland, who bravely represents the category in the market, believes that British and American palates are generally geared to sweeter compared to other parts of Europe and South America, which immediately puts agricole on the back foot in those regions.

“When I had my own bar in Manchester, Marigot Bay, I had a Ti’ Punch on the menu, which sold well, but it only performed because I was able to tell people about it. I also don’t think agricole is as exposed as other rums to the UK market because Martinique was a French colony, and therefore it remains difficult to get there, having to go through Paris, whereas the Caribbean is direct from London.”

While Holland also points out a lack of presence in cocktail menus. He believes that older expressions of agricole should be used to introduce consumers to the category rather than the younger, more vegetal spirits.

“It’s definitely easier to enjoy older expressions. Something like Rhum JM XO is easier for a consumer to sip on because they treat it like any other complex aged spirit, rather than having to explain exactly what it is first.

“Looking at the wider rum industry I am slightly concerned. The current recession hitting Europe and other parts of the world means people will be more conservative with their spending, and, given the sheer number of spiced rum brands coming to market which are masquerading as ‘rum’, it could have a harmful effect in the long term – especially the likes of AOC agricole brands which demand those higher price points.”

To end on a more positive note, existing agricole drinkers rarely leave the category, and therefore any consumers gained from outside the industry through projects like Rhum JM’s EDDEN will be sustainable for the sector.

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