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Spicing Up Rum: Rum Producers – Old and New – Add Spice to Broaden the Category

Posted on  | October 6, 2011   Bookmark and Share
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Captain Morgan Spiced Rum first landed on U.S. shores more than 60 years ago, and since that time the swashbuckling Captain has fought his way from small beginnings to the status of number two brand in the world, second only to Bacardi. Success like this, however does not go unnoticed forever.

“Nearly 16 spiced rums have entered this category in the last three years, all at competitive price points, but none have the compelling brand story of Captain Morgan,” assures Mark Breene, VP of marketing for rum for Diageo. “Our goal is to become the number one rum brand by 2015, and a new distillery that can produce the high-quality spiced rum consumers have come to expect from the brand, at an unprecedented rate, is an integral part of that plan,” notes Breene, pointing out how the first rum from the new St. Croix distillery is slated to ship in early 2012.

According to Impact Databank, Captain Morgan sells 6.2 million cases annually. Where is all that spiced rum going? Breene says that historically the core Captain Morgan consumers have been males aged 21-29. Yet as that group matures, the brand intends to change with it, as revealed in the newly unveiled advertising campaign, “To Life, Love and Loot.” While “Captain” with Coke or ginger ale remains a mainstay, spiced rum is also finding its way into classic Caribbean cocktails, like piña coladas as well as tiki-era renditions. Star Industries’ Caribaya Spiced Rum, for example, is the main ingredient for the “Five and Spice” with pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine, or the “Funky Monkey” that channels tropical climes with a blend of banana liqueur and cream of coconut.

While Captain Morgan is as firmly footed in the spiced rum category as the iconic Captain himself—leg ever perched upon a barrel—a number of spiced rum newcomers are poised to share a significant portion of the pie. Currently, Bacardi, the number one rum brand in the world, does not have a spiced rum in its portfolio, but rumor has is it something is in the works.

For the past five years, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, with partners in William Grant & Sons, has cultivated a counterculture following for its brand and namesake, Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, a real-life tattoo artist of the 1940s. “We have a beautiful, rich heritage with Norman and his legacy, and more and more people are finding out about that legacy and the old-school Americana of the 1940s and ’50s,” says Daniel Deephouse, brand manager for Sailor Jerry USA.

The grassroots marketing that launched Sailor Jerry into the world of indie rock and tattoo culture gets a boost this summer from the “Hold Fast” campaign, a journey of six vintage Airstreams across America, with stops at various festivals, barbecues and indie rock events. “We find it’s a great way to talk to fans on a personal level, to hang out in the Airstream and learn more about them. We want to keep growing the way we’ve been growing and deepen those relationships,” says Deephouse.

Like other spiced rums, Sailor Jerry embraces fans from shot and beer drinkers up to tiki connoisseurs and creative mixologists, according to Deephouse. Among his favorite recipes of the moment is the “Shave and a Haircut,” consisting of Sailor Jerry and Cola with dark stout beer. According to Impact, sales of Sailor Jerry rose by 59% to 635,000 cases in 2010, putting it firmly on the path to become a number two contender.

The Kraken Black Spiced Rum from Proximo Spirits is another popular newcomer steeped in high sea culture and built around a dark, mysterious beast icon. Consider its latest marketing tool, a Simulation Application for Nautical Maneuvering, available on iTunes that extends the following of this rum whose base is distilled from molasses made from local sugarcane in Trinidad & Tobago. Similarly, BlackBeard Spiced Rum, from Destilería Serrallés, makers of Don Q Puerto Rican rum, references a circa 1700s notorious pirate known for his menacing black beard. Aged in American oak barrels for 12 to 18 months, complex flavor backs up its mythological origins. Likewise, Brinley Gold Shipwreck Spiced Rum integrates history and quality using a recipe—featuring a premium four-year aged rum—that pays homage to a British ship that sunk off the coast of St. Kitts in a naval battle with the French.

Heaven Hill has two entries in the spiced rum category, distinguished by marketing and price. The first, Blackheart Premium Spiced Rum, is named for a fictional female pirate. “With Blackheart we got in the game and this brand has incredible upside potential. We aimed to develop a brand character that embodies a sexy, edgy lifestyle, and having a pirate girl makes us unique, giving a twist to the nautical theme,” says Brittany Blevins, Heaven Hill rum brand manager. Priced around $14.99 at retail, Blevins says Blackheart appeals to the traditional spiced rum drinker, even as they mature, embracing the 35-year-old consumer as much as the 25-year-old.

Heaven Hill also recently acquired the worldwide rights from Luxco Inc. to Admiral Nelson’s Spiced Rum, a name that pays homage to famous British Naval officer Horatio Nelson. Admiral Nelson joins Heaven Hill in a solid position as the number two spiced rum, selling 675,000 9-liter cases in 2010. It makes a great fit with the portfolio, according to Blevins: “Admiral Nelson fits nicely with our track record in terms of being a high-quality product at an affordable price point. In that respect, this brand is very similar to our other offerings, and we plan to hit the ground running because it has an incredible foundation.” Admiral Nelson also offers flavor extensions, but its newest
will be more tightly allied with the spiced category as it prepares to introduce a Cherry Spiced variety.

Like much of the spiced rum category, Heaven Hill’s entries are distinguished by price and proof, with Blackheart at 93-proof and Admiral Nelson offered at both 70-proof and 101-proof. Sailor Jerry is bottled at 92-proof, while Captain Morgan offers both its base variety from 35-37.5% ABV, and Captain Morgan Black Cask 100-proof spiced rum. The Kraken, with a sea creature theme and handled jug looking like it emerged from a pirate’s chest, comes in at 94-proof. “I believe with spiced rum, proof is a branding tool. Sailor Jerry was probably one of the first with a higher proof, and that branding allows you to create an edgier brand that appeals to other consumers like shot drinkers,” says Blevins.

Launched in July of 2010, Jim Beam’s Cruzan 9 takes a slightly more sophisticated approach to the category, offering a melding of nine different spices. “Our Cruzan customer tends to be slightly older than the category in general, and we have both Cruzan consumers and spiced rum consumers who are interested in giving us a try,” says Kim Washington, senior director vodka and rum for Beam Global. With a more modest 80-proof and stylish package devoid of characters, Cruzan stays true to its roots. “Our communication will be in line with the rest of Cruzan, talking about the premium liquid with 14 months of barrel aging and the affordable price, versus going after gimmicks or seeing how fun we can appear,”
says Washington.

Cruzan isn’t the only brand that may aspire to broaden the category; Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum commands a substantial premium compared to the mass market brands. With an SRP of $32, it brings real artisanal craftsmanship to the traditionally playful category. This pot still rum, made from Louisiana blackstrap molasses and measuring 120-130 proof, is infused with a proprietary blend of real fresh ground spices, including cloves, cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, ginger, nutmeg, a dash of cayenne and other secret spices.

“This marriage of true spiced rum and matured aged rum creates a product that has incredible flavor complexity, yet finishes smooth like a fine aged rum,” explains Erick Lewko, brand/sales manager, Old New Orleans Rum, noting that other brands may use artificial flavors and colorings that don’t exist in Old New Orleans.

St. Lucia Distillers also saw an opportunity to venture into this category with the release of its Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum, containing indigenous spices and fruits from the island, as well as “Bois Bande,” a Caribbean bark that’s purported to be an aphrodisiac. Aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels adds to the recipe’s complexity.

Even with competition heating up, Captain Morgan continues to look forward, introducing Lime Bite, “a silver, lime-spiked spiced rum that is specially formulated to taste great with beer or lemon-lime soda, but also complements juice, energy drinks and cola,” according to Breene, who notes the brand is still now gaining distribution and volume 18 months after launch. With so many new entries, from rum producers old and new, all performing impressively, rum fans have surely accepted that variety is the spice of life.


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