Bacardi sets sights on vacant marketplace with new premium rum

Vice president Ned Duggan is on a mission to recruit a whole new generation of rum drinkers.

There’s a revolution raging in the spirits world right now.

Over the years, consumers drinking habits have matured. Yes, college bars on Thirsty Thursdays are still full of students knocking back shots, but for the most part, the perception of spirits has shifted to a more premium level. Ten years ago, it would have been rare to find someone sipping tequila like. Now, it’s much more common. Look no further than the success of Casamigos -- George Clooney’s tequila brand that shifts 750ml bottles at upwards of $40.

The industry refers to it as "premiumization," and it’s happened to nearly every category of spirits, barring one: rum.

Enter Bacardi.

"For the past 15 or 20 years, consumers have been looking for more and more premium spirits, but rum remains the sole category that has not gone through a significant period of premiumization," said Ned Duggan, vice president at Bacardi.

Bars and liquor store shelves are currently being stocked with the brand’s attempt at filling that gap in the market: Añejo Cuatro and Bacardi Gran Reserva Diez. The new expressions will run alongside the private family blend Reserva Ocho and Bacardi Gran Reserva Limitada. They will run for the suggested retail price of $19.99 (Añejo Cuatro), $39.99 (Gran Reserva Diez), $29.99 (Reserva Ocho) and $100 (Gran Reserva Limitada).

Recent research showed that the world’s premium rums grew by almost 2.2 million cases, at a rate of 8.8 percent globally over the past five years.

"Consumers have become more and more interested in what they’re putting in their bodies -- they’re drinking less, but they’re drinking better," said Duggan. "They’re drinking on occasions that they want to show off what they’re drinking as a badge of who they are."

Bacardi is looking to market a new breed of drinking. The latest high-brow weapon in Bacardi’s armory is "sipping rum." But sophistication comes at a price. The new cost of $100 per bottle is a significant departure from the brand’s Superior bottles, which go for as low as $10 in some stores.

Duggan, who is aware of the challenge of marketing this new pricey spirit, said, "It’s about communicating and educating how the product is made and the craftsmanship that goes into it."

"We’re very proud of our Superior rum which continues to be the flagship spirit of our portfolio, and it is extremely well-made -- aged one to three years, although we don’t put that on the bottle. As we start to get into the 10-year-old expressions, there’s obviously more craftsmanship that goes into them, so the expense and the occasion are ways that we tend to differentiate the products from one another," he added.

The new campaign isn’t a radical change in terms of the look and feel of the brand, which plays on its heritage as a Cuban company by birth, but created in Puerto Rico.

He spoke of the importance of working with bartenders – the gatekeepers of the industry - to help educate customers.

"The biggest challenge for Bacardi and rum as a category is recruiting a new generation of rum drinkers and really carving out that territory into the premium-plus price point," he added. "Consumers don’t know a lot about rum, so it’s our job to show people why it’s worth drinking premium rum and paying more for."

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