One of Barbados’ main rum producers is reporting a major turn around in its export business, which climbed over 80 per cent in the last three years.
Officials of the Barbados West Indies Rum Distillery Ltd reported on Thursday that export for that company was expected to almost double this year, contributing significantly to the overall rum exports from the country.
At the same time, they said they saw room for Barbados and the rest of the region to “up de rum ting” and earn more foreign exchange and employ more people.
This comes almost a decade after the Barbados West Indies Rum Distillery Ltd and the wider local and regional rum industry was plunged into uncertainty as they suffered at the hands of increased competition from US-based rum producers when that country’s government heavily subsidized its own rum producers.
Barbados exports roughly $80 million in rum annually.
Chairman of the Barbados West Indies Rum Distillery Alexandre Gabriel said he believed with hard work the country could earn seven times more in the next decade.
“Call me crazy, but I think if we work hard we can. We should be able to do this,” Gariel told reporters, following a tour of the Brighton, St Michael facility.
“Thanks to the great work of the team here our exports have been growing tremendously. The distillery was doing BDS$24 million three years ago. This year will be in excess of BD$45 million in terms of export. So I am proud to say in the name of the whole team that working together we are able to turn this around and double in the course of two-and-a half years,” he said.
He attributed a lot of the increase in export to a shift in focus from “price sensitive entry level rum” to more “super-premium rum”.
“In the old days it was a focus, but now not at all. So we are not as dependent on this. In fact, our sales to the US have increased tremendously . . . So for us [the US] market has been growing and Europe has been growing,” he said.
The Plantation Rum brand is currently available in more than 70 countries.
Gabriel gave the assurance that West Indies Rum Distillery, which was bought by French cognac maker Maison Ferrand three years ago, was in Barbados for the long run.
He said since the buyout, the company had decided to invest some $20 million over a five-year period.
While some investment has been made so far in plant upgrade and equipment, Gabriel said the next phase would include an expansion of the warehouse, which has already started; and the installation of photovoltaic panels so the company could get at least 50 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in the next year.
“In another year or year-and-a-half after that it will be 100 per cent. That is our goal, all of the electricity we use will be renewable,” he said.
The company is to also be retrofitted in order to accommodate regular tours in another two years.
Managing Director Andrew Hassell said he believed Barbados and the rest of the region could do more to increase rum exports.
“Not only does Barbados’ rum have to up de ting, Jamaica rum has to up de ting. There is a huge opportunity for us as Caribbean people to up de ting,” said Hassel, adding that Jamaica was only exporting approximately US$43 million in rum per year despite its size.
He said while the Barbados Rum Distillery has been more profitable over the past three years it has also been able to increase direct employment by about 35 per cent.
“The goal is to sustainably produce the best quality premium rum, increase foreign exchange earnings and create meaningful jobs,” said Hassell, while pointing out that during the five-year investment period there would be a total of 30 projects.
The rum producers said they also believed the rum industry was a part of the solution for the dying sugarcane industry, suggesting that more by-products such as molasses and cane juice could be produced locally to make rum.
While molasses is produced locally and used to make some of the rum, the country also imports tonnes of the thick sweet liquid to help in the rum producing process.
“Actually more and more materials can come from Barbados. Of course this is something we have to grow into and we look at it and I think this is something that could be a solution to the sugarcane farming, where it is going to complement and be an output so we would distill in that case from local products,” Gabriel explained.