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The future for rum lies with clubbers

Over 150 rum industry experts gathered in the City of London last month to debate whether the future of rum lies with connoisseurs or clubbers.

On arrival, ‘connoisseurship’ was considered the way ahead. After presentations on global rum sales by Melissa Earlam of UBS, and passionate opinions from Ed Pilkington, marketing and innovation director at Diageo, and Chris Searle, recently retired international affairs supremo from Bacardi, the vote was cast again. The room had turned.

The volume and scale of opportunity provided by clubbers in a truly global world had convinced the hall connoisseurship was too narrow an opportunity on which to focus – especially when up to 10% of a cask of rum may evaporate each year.

With global rum sales at 145m cases in 2013, or 4.7% of global spirits sales, and 940 launches in the US alone in the past five years, this is clearly a vibrant sector. However, how does the category gain growth at the top end when premium rum is considered just $100 – and premium whisky may be US$10,000?

The nature of the questions and answers exposed the underbelly of the issue being that both sides of the coin are critical to the future of rum. Without the volume and scale the “clubbers” offer, the sector would not be facing an exciting future; without connoisseurship, rum will not claim the high ground that its true value and labour should engender. A category filled with passion, warmth and fun was truly brought to life.

David Grant, past Master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, said “Melissa Earlam set the scene with succinct statistics; Ed’s passionate delivery was a really hard act to follow; but Chris just blew him away!”

The Distillers’ 2014 City Debate

First held in 2012, the debate’s aims are to raise the profile of the spirits industry and to place the Worshipful Company of Distillers at the very heart of the sector.

2 June 2014 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor