Rum: more than a shot in the dark?

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Rum: more than a shot in the dark?

Related tags: Rum, Mintel

Certain styles of rum are steadily entrenching themselves as major players in the spirits game, but uneven consumer demand for different styles of rum has made recent years turbulent for the category. Daniel Woolfson asks how operators can capitalise on powerful trends 

Commentators have rushed to declare 2016 the year of gin. But, much to the chagrin of tonic and lime peddlers, ‘Mother’s Ruin’ isn’t the only spirit garnering substantial public attention. Rum, it seems, is not just for pirates any more. 

Dark, golden and spiced rums have steadily become one of the best-performing spirits categories of the past five years, according to recent research by Mintel. Volume sales of those rum styles rose by a whopping 40% between 2010 and 2015, with value sales rising by 41% — reaching £600m over the same period.

While this currently gives the segment approximately 12% market share, Mintel expects this figure to steadily increase over coming years. Part of this success comes from rum brands stepping up their advertising game — Captain Morgan’s live-action captain hitting the small screen and Kraken’s uber-trendy black ice cream van come to mind.

And despite predictions of a slowdown in value growth over coming years, the category is showing no signs of losing consumer favour. 

Within the rum category as a whole, golden rum is the fastest growing, according to David Styring, spirits and soft drinks trading manager at Molson Coors. He’s quick to note that Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Gold — arguably the most publicly visible golden rum brand in the UK — is responsible for 54% of this sub-category.

White blight

White rum, however, is not doing so well. Mintel reports that usage of white rum — as of late 2015 — was overwhelmingly skewered towards younger consumers.

Roughly 50% of under-35s were drinking the spirit, it said, largely thanks to the visibility and youth-oriented marketing of brands like Bacardi. But only 20% of over-55s were found to be drinking white.

In fact, Mintel went so far as to mark white rum a “loser” drink in its April 2016 report into British lifestyle trends.

This leaves the rum category in a rather strange position, with the success of dark, golden and spiced effectively “cancelled out” by the stagnation of white, according to Chris Wisson, Mintel’s drinks analyst.

“‘Stagnant’ is probably being kind,” muses Wisson. “White rum is struggling and the sales continue to go down.


“With dark, golden and spiced rums, we’ll just call them darks for now, there are a lot of new brands coming into the market. And a lot of these brands are very modern, very edgy, fashionable — they are quite impactful off the shelf. And that’s what, in the off-trade and on-trade, has attracted a lot of younger drinkers. They’ve gone for that drink as almost a late-night option.

For instance, he says: “While they may have been drinking whiskey and coke before, the evolution of the dark rum market has made [rums] more exciting and they’re very mixable with cola. I think that’s really played into the current trend of mixing.

“I doubt many people will drink Kraken or Red Leg neat,” he adds. “They’re doing what has served drinks like Smirnoff very well — very up-tempo, party-style drinks that have good taste. That’s why we’re seeing such growth: image, taste and mixability.”

The problem with white rum, he says, is: “It doesn’t have that spiced element which brings something new to the taste experience and often it’s not hugely flavourful.

"And it doesn’t haventhe diversity of brands that dark rum has.”

'Craft' wins cool points

Less mainstream rum brands are garnering public favour, despite the seemingly unstoppable gin boom.

While there are now more than 240 gin distilleries in the UK, with more launching every year than ever before, rum brands — along with vodka and whiskey — triumphed over gin brands in a recent consumer poll designed to determine the UK’s favourite ‘craft’ spirits.

Poll organiser Jason Navon, co-founder of social media group Clarity Comms, previously told Wine & Spirit magazine Harpers​ the results showed there was an appetite for “interesting” premium spirits, such as list-topper Revolver Rum.

But with the idea of ‘craft’ expanding ever further into the spirits category comes an inherent risk.

Wisson says: “Craft is a term that has become synonymous with high quality and being worth paying more for, but its overuse, and misuse, may see its impact eroded and consumers become more demanding of brands that ask them to trade up.”

The hard sell

So given the zeitgeist, how should operators go about compiling a rum offer that plays to these consumer trends?

Molson Coors’ Styring says: “Rums help to illustrate how cock-tails can play an important part in driving on-trade sales.

“When selling rum, a few basic principles apply that can also be useful across the wider spirits category.”

Styring recommends operators double bank their fastest sellers to ensure matching demand, display premium rums in line with mainstream options so consumers can easily spot premium alternatives and ensure spirits are stocked near mixers.

“It’s also important to price a drink as it would be served,” he adds. “So, for example, clearly display the price of rum and coke, rather than a single serve of rum and coke separately.”

Drinkers’ paradise

The St James Tavern, Brighton, stocks more than 80 rums, varying wildly in style and price. Admittedly, this is a far broader rum offer than the average operator will want to adopt. So how does the St James manage to showcase and sell as many different types of rum as it does?

To help introduce drinkers to the wide range available, the pub offers a selection of rum flights at different price ranges.

“They’re a very good way for people who are not particularly enthusiastic about rum to experience some different ones without breaking the bank,” says Sean O’Shea, general manager at the St James.


“The way they’re served gives it a bit of theatre as well.”

An entry level flight costs £7.50, a mid-range flight £9.50 and a high-end flight £12.50.

Seasonal boom

And despite it being a relatively small percentage of customers that come in with the intention of ordering a flight, quite often many can be persuaded to give one a go because, O’Shea says, they don’t feel like they’re being ripped off thanks to the accessible price point.

Strangely, he adds, rum sales seem to fluctuate with the seasons, with winter bringing a particular boom in trade.

Additionally, the pub runs regular rum clubs. “It started off one Tuesday a month and then snowballed,” says O’Shea.

“We get the big hitters in the rum trade — Appleton and Green Island for instance — they come down with their whole range and do a masterclass about it and a tasting. The whole thing takes about two hours. It’s similar to a wine tasting except no one ever spits out the rums.”

Mix them up

O’Shea adds: “I ask them to bring a few cocktails that complement the rum they’re pushing, so they can get behind the bar and mix them up. It’s very good and we’ve been seeing a lot of the same faces showing up, people that perhaps weren’t rum enthusiasts but are now getting into rum.”

Somewhat surprisingly, O’Shea says he doesn’t think it is important that staff at the St James Tavern have much knowledge about rum at all. Rather, he recommends encouraging them to find two or three rums that they like — the rationale being that their enthusiasm for certain rums will sell, better than any knowledge of the making process.

He maintains: “Everything you need to know about that is on the back of the bottle.” 

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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