Grégoire Gueden, GBH Spirits Director

20 personalities decipher the last 10 years, and provide food for thought for the next 10

Grégoire Gueden

How has the rum market changed over the last 10 years?

The rum market has undergone a veritable upheaval over the last decade, and the current period is marked by the return of taste! Gone are the days of ‘neutral’, of sanitised spirits, of eaux-de-vie that have been distilled time and time again until all that remains is the aroma of the soft drinks that accompany them.

Taste is back… I should even say that good taste is back, and that’s just as well, because our rums have it in spades. I took this gamble many years ago and I have to say that we are very proud to have remained true to our values and to have taken care to preserve the identity of each of our brands without ever taking the easy way out and without betraying our origins and the specific characteristics that stem from them.

The second major lesson I have learnt from the past few years is that the segmentation of the rum world is based on colour, and therefore on aging. While white rums can be subdivided or categorised by quality (standard, premium, etc.) or type (molasses or pure cane), there is no longer any doubt that the top end of the rum category depends on aging in oak casks, for varying lengths of time, and of course on the subtle blends produced by our talented cellar masters.

Rhum CLÉMENT has been a forerunner in this move upmarket since the late 2000s, when it tried to make its aged rums better known on the French market. This foray into the rum market, which at the time consisted mainly of white rums, aroused the curiosity of many third-country brands, some of which are now part of the French distribution landscape.

It is clear that these “exotic rums”, often rightly described as “gourmet”, have attracted new consumers who will eventually move on to more complex and distinctive products. The arrival of these new brands, hitherto unknown in France, will undoubtedly have reawakened the fighting spirit of the traditional players… there’s nothing like competition to motivate teams and push them to rival each other in ingenuity!

The efforts made by the various distilleries in terms of packaging should also be highlighted. Like their cousins in the Charente region, many producers in the West Indies, Guyana and Reunion have multiplied their initiatives to create beautiful bottles and magnificent labels, which have helped to boost the appeal of their products and raise the profile of the category as a whole.

If we add to this the growing number of educational initiatives aimed at specifiers and consumers to raise awareness of the specific characteristics of the different rums, we can consider that the rum category is on a launch pad that should propel it into the same orbit as that which launched Scotch whiskies and legendary single malts.

Finally, as a long-standing player in Martinique’s spirit tourism sector, with 200,000 visitors a year to Habitation CLÉMENT and 70,000 to the Fonds Préville distillery (Rhum J.M), it’s important to remember the vital role played by opening our various production sites to the public. The consumer of the 21ste century wants to see, smell, touch and understand the product… and that’s just as well, because we have nothing to hide, but everything to share.

How will it evolve over the next 10 years?

Unfortunately, 2022 and 2023 are “plateau” years, with growth in consumption held back mainly by repeated crises, and the corollary of this is an anxiety-inducing inflationary context that is pushing consumers to favour units of need to the detriment of units of pleasure.

This is unfortunately a reality for rum, as it is for most of the other categories that make up the large family of wines and spirits. So we need to be optimistic and patient, and convince ourselves that the outbursts of the moment will give way to a calmer world where convivial occasions will finally take over, to everyone’s great delight… and in moderation. Once this order has been restored, I firmly believe that the rise of rum is still in its infancy.

I believe that the coming decade will be extremely prosperous for the category, even if we can expect a ‘clean-up’ of the offer, which will strengthen the positions of the historic players and those who have proven their legitimacy.

Rum is no ordinary spirit drink. It is a unique category, the fruit of a skilful equation combining origin, terroir, agricoleraw materials and ancestral know-how. This is the complex but virtuous terrain in which consumers expect us to operate, and we owe it to them not to disappoint them, or risk seeing our brands fall out of favour.

Do you have any news you’d like to share with us?

We have just acquired the Saint-Maurice distillery in French Guiana and its iconic Belle Cabresse brand. This distillery marks the addition of a new origin to our portfolio of premium brands, which already includes Martinique (Rhum Clément and Rhum J.M), Saint Lucia (Bounty, Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney) and Mauritius (Arcane, Beach House).

I don’t think many groups can boast such a rich and beautiful range of rums. We are extremely proud of this, but we are also perfectly aware that it obliges us to excel. Alongside our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of our products, we have also set ourselves the goal of working actively on environmental issues.

This is particularly the case in Martinique at the Fonds Préville distillery (Rhum J.M) through the EDDEN programme (Engagés pour le Développement Durable de nos Écosystèmes et de notre Nature – Committed to the Sustainable Development of our Ecosystems and Nature), which supports the distillery’s innovations by concretely accompanying its ambitions in favour of sustainable development. This essentially involves three major commitments: to cultivate and protect the land that nourishes us, to produce in a circular economy, and to involve men and women in the transmission of excellence.

Rhum Clément is not to be outdone, as this summer we also launched the first eco-responsible bottle, made from sugar cane bagasse. Our involvement in spirit tourism has not been left behind, and we should be able to inaugurate the new tourist site at the SLD distillery in Saint Lucia during 2025.

Work has already begun and the tour, which will cover more than 10 hectares, will offer a unique ‘rum experience’ for the one million visitors who come to the island every year.

What does Rumporter mean to you?

For me, Rumporter is the reference magazine on the world of rum in France.
You’ll find just about everything you need to know about this fascinating spirit. Information on new releases, in-depth articles on producers, products and trends, allowing enthusiasts to expand their knowledge and novices to immerse themselves in the marvellous history of rum.

Both the form (paper, photos, etc.) and the content (articles, interviews, etc.) are of the highest quality, helping to raise the profile of a category that is attracting more and more consumers. A big well done to the team of enthusiasts who bring this publication to life!

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