The bright spot in the rum category these days is the vibrant flavored segment, especially the spiced variants.
The flavored rum category is growing and evolving, almost as a separate entity from light and dark rum. New takes on traditional styles and key on-premise trends are helping to increase market share and drive sales.
“Overall the rum category is a little flat, but the flavored rum segment is growing,” says Daniel Clarke, brand director for Malibu Rum, Pernod Ricard’s entrant in the flavored arena. Clarke says that the brand is growing at around 2.5%-3%, and that is helping to fuel the overall growth of the segment.
Indeed, of the top 10 leading rum brands, more than half are flavored/spiced variants, according to the Handbook Advance from Beverage Information Group. Lead by Captain Morgan at the number two slot, other flavor-centric brands in the lineup are Malibu, Admiral Nelson’s, Sailor Jerry, The Kraken and Captain Morgan’s Parrot Bay.
“Flavored and spiced rums are setting themselves apart from the general rum category,” says Hannah Venhoff, brand manager at Heaven Hill Distilleries. “That is where the growth is coming from.” The company’s Admiral Nelson’s Rum is outpacing the category at 4%. The high-proof Blackheart Rum has enjoyed double-digit growth since its launch in 2010 and is currently up 16%, Venhoff says. Spiced is far and away the most popular flavor, she adds, with tropical flavors, coconut and pineapple close behind.
“Flavored rum continues to lead the market and is an important part of the Cruzan brand,” says Tim Carter, senior brand director, Mixables, at Beam Suntory. Cruzan’s lineup includes 15 flavor variants. On the spiced side are Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum and Calico Jack. The latter has a nautical-focused brand with a bit of a pirate feel, Carter says, and is Beam’s biggest player overall in the spiced rum segment.
Indeed, spice seems to be leading the flavored segment in terms of new players, consumer interest and product innovation, especially as craft producers start to play around with rum.
“It’s a vibrant time for this space and we’re seeing that there is even greater potential for growth with spiced rum than there is with any other type on the market,“ says Dave Roberts Jr., head distiller at South Hollow Spirits, which launched Twenty Boat Spiced Rum in 2014. “Consumers who have previously only encountered mass-produced spiced rums are now realizing that more premium offerings exist and they‘re open to experimenting with the category.” Twenty Boat adds a chai tea blend to its botanical spice mix.
This January, Destillería Serrallés in Puerto Rico will launch its first spiced rum in the Don Q line. “The spiced rum segment is massive and we want to put a product in there that stays true to our DNA—aged and well-crafted, but a fun expression,” says Roberto Serralles, vice president of business development.
“Spiced is a traditional style of rum but there are so many different spices, fruits and botanicals that can be used to change up the recipe,” says Luke Davidson, founder and head distiller of Maine Craft Distilling in Portland. Queequeg spiced rum is its best-selling spirit. Maine Craft Distilling is ramping up production as it prepares to enter three new markets in 2017. “Spiced rum will be the tip of our spear as we expand,” Davidson says.
Overall, the flavored segment seems to be going through a period of reexamination, learning lessons from other categories. Many producers are reining in the proliferation of flavors, yet are at the same time mindful of the thirst for new and novel, especially among younger consumers.
“The flavored vodka category got overheated, with too many wild flavors like Birthday Cake and Marshmallow. Those flavors were largely fads, and like most fads they are winding down,” explains David Farmer, president of Blue Chair Bay Rum. For rum, the most popular flavors are coconut, pineapple, banana, vanilla and mango.
“That is consistent with the Island lifestyle,” says Farmer, who notes that more unusual flavors make up a relatively small percentage of rum. “Flavored rums – Blue Chair Bay in particular – can compete and take market share by evoking a fun, carefree lifestyle,” he believes.
“Vodka led the way in flavor innovation, but now it’s suffering from an over-supply on the market with too many flavors and too many novelties,” says Clarke. Malibu, for its part, is narrowing its focus to the core flavors. Coconut represents 80% of its business, followed by pineapple, mango and passion fruit.
“Those tropical flavors represent our Caribbean heritage and our ‘#becausesummer strategy’,” says the brand director, citing Malibu’s promotional campaign launched last summer, which the brand will continue next year as ‘#becausesummer 2.0.’ The company will also be rolling its Malibu Beach House promotion to more music festivals next summer.
“After the explosion of unusual flavors, the trend is now beginning to move once again to more familiar, natural flavors,” echoes Carter. Cruzan’s best-selling flavors include coconut, mango and black cherry.