All at sea?

Rum may enjoy a reputation as the fun-lover’s drink, but it’s at the mercy of those who are giving it a bad name. quality is now paramount, reports Holly Motion


Rum may be a treasure trove of wonders and gems, but within it there are also buccaneers threatening to damage the category’s future. ‘Rum’ covers white, dark, spiced, amber – and that’s before you consider the rather contentious age statements. It’s a spirit with a fun, ‘yo ho ho’ image and efforts to pull it into the premium and quality tier are being seriously shackled by issues of sweetness and brands that are adding lord knows what without declaring it or being made accountable for it.

“Havana Club is not messed around with in any way,” says Nick Blacknell, Havana Club international marketing director. “There is no sugar, no spice.

“I think rum is probably a somewhat difficult category to navigate because it is one of the few that extends all the way from an unaged white through to some of the finest drinking spirits in the world,” he says.

“I can’t think of another category that has that breadth of range. In different markets consumers tend to consume different parts of the rum category. In Latin America, for example, it is all about quality aged rums.

“In the industry, we are looking at the whole category. Consumers, depending on the market, don’t have quite such a broad view. It is probably not as complex as it looks from the outside.”

Havana Club has taken a punt on aged, dark rum and streamlined its portfolio, phasing out its Blanco in all markets except Cuba. “We are all about aged rum,” Blacknell says. “It is our bread and butter business and it is where the future lies. Aged rum is our big bet.

“A big bet,” he reaffirms. “We don’t do spiced or unaged rum.” The reason for this is twofold, according to Blacknell: “We are looking at other spirit categories and seeing where there are areas of strong growth.

“Generally, it is in quality, aged products, with the exception of gin. We also really believe that rum is a category consumers are getting more and more educated about. There is both a global spirit trend toward quality and ageing and a trend within the category itself.”

Blacknell suggests that, rather than competing with other rums, Havana Club actually competes with other spirits.

“We look at rivals,” Blacknell says. “Our attitude is more about occasion than price. We ask ourselves: ‘What category are you competing with?’ We have a good aged rum, Especial. It is more about what the consumer is expecting. So if it is a premium market then we will put in our premium product. The way we tend to price is that if people are drinking a lot of premium scotch or bourbon then they are more likely to drink a premium rum.”

It won’t come as news to anyone that, globally, white spirits – with the exception of gin – are less on-trend while brown spirits are thriving. And Blacknell says Havana Club wants to be “in the game” by offering the consumer aged, dark rum.