By: Marina Velez, Research Director of EPG Specialty Information
While the month of August is officially ‘Rum Month’, the rum category continues to play well throughout the year. Rum is a major category within distilled spirits and is enjoyed year-round both on- and off-premise. In fact, eight of the top rum brands are ranked within the leading 150 distilled spirits, as tracked by the Beverage Information Group. Three brands were positioned within the top 20 — market leaders Bacardi (No. 6), Captain Morgan (No. 9) and Malibu (No. 19). At 8% share of total distilled spirits in 2022, rum defended its standing as the sixth-largest spirits category, contending with fierce competition in the last few years from domestic whiskey, tequila and most recently the ready-to-drink segments.
Although vodka commands the majority share of distilled spirits sold for the on-premise, rum ranks fourth in case volume sales. The rum category, like many others, was challenged to achieve significant gains in overall cases sold on-premise in recent years. However, rum endures as a mixed drink mainstay of cocktail menus around the country, with the Mojito, Mai Tai and Daiquiri continuously ranked amongst the country's most popular cocktails.
The core demographics of the rum category include rum aficionados, consumers who enjoy mixing cocktails with white rums, and Tiki fans. Of spirits drinkers surveyed by the Beverage Information Group’s IMBIBE Consumer Report, over 50% of spirit drinkers consumed rum in the last 12-months. The Affluent Urbanite segment exhibited the greatest spending potential at 82%. Among all Rum drinkers, the Daiquiri is the most popular rum-based cocktail, but the Dark & Stormy and Mojito ranked higher for Affluent Urbanites.
The flavor innovation trend continues to drive attention to the rum category. For example, in May 2023 Bacardi Rum announced the U.S. launch of its latest flavored rum expression, Mango Chile. It blends natural mango extracts, chili spice and Bacardi white rum. For those looking for a unique cocktail serving, Mango Chile is a spicy-yet-sweet alternative for white rum in classics like the Mojito and Daiquiri, the company says. “As a leader in the rum category, we’re always looking to push the boundaries of what our rum can do. The sweet and spicy mixture of Mango Chile is the perfect flavor expression for summer, especially as an easy-to-drink chilled shot. It’s smooth, crisp and tastes like it came straight from your local fruit cart,” comments Maria Galis, Bacardi’s Global Innovations Director.
Another area that has helped fuel rum sales recently is the latest consumer trend towards classic cocktails. “We are seeing significant growth with classic cocktails such as Rum Punch, Expresso Martinis and Daiquiris,” notes Bob Gunter, President and CEO of Koloa Rum Company. “Tiki cocktails are also showing a resurgence in popularity.” Nostalgia — or rather, classic references — are “an ongoing trend that have been threaded throughout a variety of industries, and especially within the spirits space,” remarks Antoine Couvreur, Managing Director of Mount Gay. “When it comes to what our consumers are drinking, we anticipate the continued love for classic cocktails to drive growth in 2023. From reinventing tried-and-true drinks, like the Old Fashioned, with unique flavors, or changing one’s perspective on a historic recipe, like the Daiquiri, consumers will be looking for new ways to break outside of the norm, yet still believe in what has passed the test of time.”
The category encompasses expressions ranging from white rum, black rum, dark rum, aged rum, spiced and flavored rum to unconventional rum and high-proof rum. Rum is extremely mixable. Four of the top-10 bestselling cocktails are rum drinks, according to the Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report 2023: the Mojito (No. 1), the Daiquiri (No. 2), Piña Colada (No. 6) and rum and coke (No. 9). That means rum is a must-have for every beverage program.
So, why does the Mojito rank #1 among the Top 20 Globally Sought-After Cocktails? Simplicity. And a successful combination of flavors that incorporate premium rum and fresh ingredients. Bartenders don’t necessarily love the fuss of making them, but consumers do love their Mojitos—especially in the summer. Over the last few years, countless variations and riffs have evolved, adding inventive ingredients like lemongrass and basil, or substituting the rum for local alternatives, such as tequila (the Mexican Mojito) or metaxa (Greek).
Rum has also been capitalizing on the premiumization trend reflected in the sale of brown rums and is more than offsetting the weakness of white rums. Interest from consumers for quality rums has expanded, especially in on-premise cocktail programs. The bartending community is driving this idea by educating and converting consumers to rum through variety in cocktail offerings. There is wider availability of aged and sippable rums and evolving interest by bartenders and consumers in unusual barrel finishes.
Historically rum has been overshadowed by the popularity of other brown liquors, such as whiskey and Cognac, which the American market tends to prefer for sipping. But drinkers are slowly growing wise to rum’s premium potential. “We first launched our premium rum portfolio in 2018, and each year, the consumer appetite for more premium, aged spirits has grown”, explains Lisa Pfenning, VP Americas, Bacardi Rum Portfolio. In fact, as a result of the growing consumer interest, we launched our limited-edition Cask Series in 2021. We first started with Bacardi Reserva Ocho Sherry Cask, then Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rye Cask, and have a new iteration coming later this summer.” “We’re seeing the trend of premiumization take off in bars and restaurants as well,” she adds, “with 72% of bartenders reporting the most premiumization within tequila, followed by single malts, mezcal and aged rum, mostly driven by the surging popularity of rum-based cocktails.”
Consumers have not hesitated to select more expensive rums that deliver outstanding quality. For example, in June of 2023, Campari America owned Appleton Estate launched their limited-edition 17-Year-Old Legend, a recreation of the 17-Year-Old rum made by J. Wray & Nephew on the Estate in the 1940’s. The J. Wray & Nephew 17-Year-Old is known as the inspiration for the creation of the Mai Tai cocktail, according to the company. Produced at the oldest continuously operating rum distillery in Jamaica, the blend is aged a minimum of 17 years in the island’s tropical climate. Referencing original manuscripts and formulas, esteemed Master Blender Dr. Joy Spence, who in 1997 became the world’s first female Master Blender at Appleton Estate, created this one-time release using four distillates set aside to rest on the Estate to best recreate the taste profile of the original blend.
“With our 17-Year-Old Legend, we knew we had a special story to tell,” says Spence. “This project has been years in the making and truly one of the most challenging of my career. In carefully re-creating the beautiful taste profile of the original rum, we’ve created an expression that is a tribute both to our own heritage, and to the heritage of the classic cocktail craft.”
As with other spirits categories, premiumization in rum means more creative barrel finishes, giving consumers a wider range of innovative flavors to explore through. “Within sipping rums, we’re seeing a big lean towards innovative cask finishes,” observes Couvreur. “At Mount Gay, we’ve been exploring this with our Master Blender Collection, where Master Blender Trudiann Branker has the opportunity to discover and push the boundaries of rum innovation. Most recently she used Madeira wine casks, and this year, she’ll release a well-aged rum in a different cask. Here, we’re seeing interest in exploring taste profiles and nuances, much like we’re familiar with in the single-malt world.”
Agreeing with Couvreur is John Meisler, Vice President Sales, Serralles USA, producer of Don Q rum. “Industry analysts expect as much as 15% compound annual growth rates in the super and ultra-premium rum categories ($30 to $100). More growth is expected as well in the $250 rum category, while the overall rum category declines are driven by the value and standard segments. Scotch and Bourbon producers have created an audience for unique barrel finishes. Meisler continues, “These tend to bring new, curious consumers to the brands/categories, and allow rum makers to showcase their rums. For us, they are created in small batches — like the Cognac, Port and Zinfandel finishes released over the last six months.”
Although rum might not boast the star power associated with other spirits and wine, celebrity backed brands have been on the rise. Singer-songwriter Ciara joined Ten To One Rum as an investor, director and co-owner with founder Marc Farrell. The rock band Kiss introduced its Drink It Up portfolio to the U.S. market, which includes Black Diamond Premium Dark Rum, Detroit Rock Premium Dark Rum and limited-edition Monstrum Ultra-Premium Dark Rum. Rocker and spirits entrepreneur Sammy Hager markets Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. And singers Bruno Mars (SelvaRey Rum) and Lil Wayne (Bumba Rum) are also involved in the category.
Whatever form rum takes nowadays — limited release, barrel finished, authentic and craft, eco-conscious, or all the above — the category has plenty of opportunity to lean into current consumer preferences. Whether people respond, and the category grows, will depend on how well rum brands can communicate their advantages, their similarities and difference with other spirits, while carving out additional space in a broader alcohol market that’s shifting quickly with modern trends.
For more information about this article contact Marina Velez, Research Director, email@example.com. For more information about the IMBIBE Consumer Insights reports, contact Eric Bold, Account Executive Information Solutions, firstname.lastname@example.org. For in-depth analysis of the Rum category, consider purchasing the Beverage Information Group’s 2023 Liquor Handbook. For ordering assistance please contact Sherai Falcon, email@example.com or visit our website at www.epgspecialtyinformation.com.
**Interviews sourced from Beverage Dynamics and Cheers Magazine, published by Liquor Handbook’s parent company, The Beverage Information Group.