I think rum’s time has finally come
Rumporter: It is the springtime of rhum agricole at the moment. New products are popping up everywhere. You must be pleased, after having worked in this world for 10 years.
GG: There is definitely real excitement in the rum sector at the moment, with the emergence of new brands and products. This “creative agitation” hasn’t skipped the rhum agricole sector, and that’s excellent news! This dynamism is the reflection of a healthy worldwide spirits market and for rum in particular. So one can only delight in the growing consumer interest in rum in general and rhum agricole specifically!
Rumporter: Does the creativity demonstrated by your competitors HSE, Saint James or La Favorite worry or please you?
GG: In this case too, one can only delight in so much dynamism. I often use the example of Scotch whisky producers, especially single malt; I’m certain that the emergence and success of the single malt category is in great part down to the dynamism of all of the brands. CLÉMENT and J.M are only able to exist through the category of Rhum Agricole of Martinique. So I am very happy to see our Martinican colleagues bringing about innovation, and what is more with so much talent and creativity. This widening of the range products stimulates the market and forces our teams to react and excel! Competition is an extremely motivating factor, especially when you aspire to reach the top of your field…
Rumporter: Work on the ‘premium-isation’ of rhum agricole got off to a good start and has already reached a large audience of specialists and enlightened enthusiasts. What needs to be done to move things up a notch, both in France and internationally?
GG: First of all, I think that rum’s time has finally come. Let’s not forget that rum is the third most consumed category of spirit in the world (300 million cases, including sugarcane alcohols) behind whisky and vodka. We’re therefore talking about an extremely large category on a worldwide scale. It is attracting more and more consumers, but also large groups in the sector (DIAGEO, CAMPARI, PERNOD RICARD) who have understood that rum found a place at the heart of the evolution of consumer fashions and current trends (cocktails, ‘craft spirits’…). The strategy of these large groups consists of increasing the range, and happily we’re finally starting to see the emergence of a real premium section within the rum category. To my great satisfaction, I am also noticing that the increase in the range incorporates the various “colours” of rums by contrasting and comparing white rums against cask-aged rums, which currently constitute the “premium” and “super premium” ranges.
This trend should naturally be favourable for the large family of rhum agricole, which has “intrinsically” found its place in the premium category through their mode of production (pure sugarcane juice) and through their geographic association with France and its solid reputation in terms of wines and spirits (e.g. Cognac). Producers of rhum agricole need to organise themselves in order to take advantage of the demand provoked by the new market orientations and to achieve true international recognition, as single malt has managed to do in the whisky category.
More generally, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion and French Guyana have developed real expertise in terms of rum production. We need to get organised so that France (through its overseas territories) is recognised as one of the great producers of rum worldwide, and what is more, is identified specifically for its premium rum (top of the range).
Rumporter: In this context, can you describe your project of organoleptically classifying styles of rum using an aroma wheel?
GG: Obtaining this international recognition requires a good understanding of the world of rum from both distribution professionals and consumers alike. Even though the market is evolving rapidly, rum remains a category that is insufficiently organised and lacks clarity. Our teams have therefore worked on a means of classification of the products based on origin, which allows for better understanding and organisation of this enormous category. They started from the idea that the aromatic richness of rum results from the history, land, and culture, unique to each country. Hence the Anglo-Saxons, the French and the Spanish have participated in the development of particular styles of rum which owe their character to factors such as the soil, climate, and, above all, the expertise coming from their particular culture and taste. The choice of the base material (industrial molasses / agricultural sugarcane juice), the choice of production techniques (distillation in a still, continuous distillation, etc.) or even the conditions and origins of the casks (new or old, American or European, etc.) are some of the elements which give characteristics to a product and distinguish it from another: dry or sweet, light or complex, fruity or spicy. We therefore arrived at the conclusion that the world of rum should be divided into three large families “Rhum, Rum and Ron”, since different modes of consumption are associated with each of the 3 categories. This lead us to place French origin (including overseas territories) as one of the 3 large categories making up worldwide production of rum, even though the volume of production is still far behind that of their Spanish or British competitors. The final aim is quite simply to be recognised as the top end of the range within the sector.
Rumporter: This is an interesting approach because it aims to unite not just the rum producers of Martinique but, beyond that, those of Guadeloupe and other overseas territories. To us this seems to be a first in terms of communication? How has the project been received by your colleagues in Martinique and elsewhere?
GG: This project goes far beyond the immediate and personal interest of our own brands since it rests on the principal that our brands will only be recognised within a larger category. It is this category that we wish to reinforce and I think that our colleagues must surely adhere to the same principle. I have already received a large amount of encouragement, which makes me think that our approach is headed in the right direction. We’re thus already in an approach with a “Martinique/Guadeloupe” focus, which only asks to be widened and taken up by as many as possible.
Rumporter: What variations are you thinking of bringing to the concept?
GG: We have already developed this pedagogic project using a variety of formats (print, press, digital, POS…), which we have produced in 5 languages. Since digital technology offers ever more possibilities, we are currently working on creating new tools that will allow us to recruit and educate more and more consumers and fans. We are hoping that the development of French rhum may become a national cause (in the same way as wines or Champagne) and that we can ramp up our communication plan with national support. This could be an excellent opportunity for this emblematic economic sector of the overseas territories that (directly or indirectly) provides employment for over 20,000 people.
Rumporter: Clément is one of the brands of Rhum Agricole, perhaps the only one, which most actively exports. Could you tell us about your experiences with the foreign market?
GG: The narrowness of the local market and the specificities of the national market unfortunately only offer a small scope for development. We therefore, quite naturally, turned our attention towards the international market in a sector of the spirits industry that is becoming more and more global.
As you know, we firmly believe in the potential of French rhum in general and rhum of Martinique in particular, so why not imagine that the CLÉMENT and J.M brands could one day become worldwide symbols of the premium rum sector! That is my ambition, anyway.
Rumporter: There seem to be less and less critics than there were only 4 or 5 years ago, when there was still a lot of ignorance. A benevolent curiosity now seems to be appearing. Is the rhum agricole category finally emerging on an international level?
GG: Rum can still sometimes suffer from a controversial reputation, but I think that all that is behind us now. The dynamism demonstrated by brands, better packaging, and increasing quality all play a part in the radical change that the rum category is currently seeing. This is particularly true in the case of French rhum agricole.
Rumporter: There have been a few criticisms here and there of this attempt at classification. How, besides your wheel of aromas, has it been received by avid enthusiast on Planet Rum?
GG: Our classification gives the rhum brands from overseas territories a central sector in the in the overall category. So I’m not very surprised that some people are not happy about this…
We have received a lot of encouragement and also some criticism, which we will take into account for future development of the tool. We have to be realistic; our classification is not designed to be a scientific tool. It simply provides some insight to help non-professional enthusiasts navigate this extremely complex world; this complexity is evidenced by the fact that certain brands offer a range of different types of product that are even difficult for us to position on our map. Complete range JM Rum.
Rumporter: The Habitation Clément museum, the JonOne project, the restoration of J.M, the Aroma Wheel, you are very prolific. Could you finish off by telling us a bit about your future projects for Clément and J.M?
GG: Nowadays, consumers are no longer simply consumer-users of the product. They want to have an exchange with the brand that they like and are looking for a full experience. This is what the Clément and J.M brands are moving towards. We want to provide our clients with a unique experience based on everything that makes up the quality and renown of our brands: patrimony, history, culture, creation of the product and of course the moment of tasting. We try to demonstrate each one of these components that contribute to the unique pleasure of opening and tasting one of our bottles of aged rhum.