French producer of Cuban rum sets sights on U.S. market

Screen shot 2015-05-04 at 8.09.10 AMThe mojito — rum, mint, sugar, lime and sparkling water — is a world-renowned cocktail. Havana Club, the most famous of all Cuban rums, is a less known but more explosive mixture: capitalism, Cuban communism, and a dash of “made in France.”

Havana Club, owned by the French giant Pernod Ricard, a world leader in wines and spirits, prepares at this moment to launch an assault on the United States.

A colossal challenge, because the American market accounts for more than a third (36 percent) of the volume of rum consumed in the world. Some 18 million 9-liter cases, for a turnover of $3.5 billion (3.3 billion euros).

The forward base for the conquest is the ultra-modern distillery of San José de las Lajas, about 30 kilometers south of Havana, part of a joint venture established in 1993 with Cuba. Two hundred employees who produce up to 12,000 bottles per hour.

“Since the creation of the joint venture, sales have increased tenfold,” says JÉrúme Cottin-Bizonne, chief executive officer of Havana Club International. “Our strategy and organization are clearly growth-oriented.”

In 2014, 4 million cases of Havana Club were sold in over 120 countries. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Cuba are among the most important markets. What is the new frontier now?

The new frontier, which dwarfs Pernod Ricard’s giant turnover, is a short distance from the Cuban coast: the state of Florida — where many Cuban exiles dream of again tasting the rum from their homeland — and the rest of the United States.

“If the U.S. embargo on Cuban products were to be lifted, we would be the first to market a 100-percent Cuban rum in the United States,” says Cottin-Bizonne, bursting with impatience. “We are ready, with logistical, commercial and marketing plans.”

There will be pitfalls and adversaries: the rums (Bacardi Superior, Bacardi 151) manufactured by the Cuban exile Bacardi — founded in Santiago de Cuba, the company now has its headquarters in Bermuda — Captain Morgan rum, which Americans love, and the English rum Diageo. The battle of the images looms bloody, with plenty of marketing cannonades and media crossfire.

The ammunition — in the shape of cases of rum — is ready in Cuba and the bridgehead of conquest is already operational in the United States.

“Via our subsidiary, Pernod Ricard USA, we can ensure the promotion and development of our rum with the Americans,” the Pernod Ricard folks assure us.

Earlier this month [April 10-11], the general staff of the French group turned their eyes toward Panama and the Summit of the Americas.

“When Raul Castro and Barack Obama shook hands, Pernod Ricard rubbed its hands,” joked an industry official. President François Hollande is expected in Havana on May 11 in the first visit by a French president to the communist island.

It is rumored that Alexandre Ricard, the group’s chief executive officer, was approached by the Elysée Palace to be in the presidential plane.

[Translator’s Note: Alexandre Ricard, 42, a grandson of the distillery’s founder, became Pernod Ricard’s CEO in February of this year.]

(From Le Parisien)

By Matthieu Pelloli, Progreso Weekly

April 30, 2015

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