Save the date if you haven’t already: Rhum Fest Paris is taking over the Grande Halle du Parc Floral de Vincennes from 13 to 15 April. Now in its sixth year, Rhum Fest Paris is bigger than ever: more stands, more brands, more rum, more activities and plenty of new features. I’m meeting Cyrille Hugon, the fair’s co-founder, to learn more about a very tempting programme!
Laurence Marot: Can you give us an overview of rum for the year 2019?
Cyrille Hugon: Rum’s sales figures continue to grow, as does its reach. In Great Britain, rum sales exceeded one billion pounds in 2018, and in France, sales are growing by more than 10% per year, whereas alcohol sales globally are in decline. This is especially interesting as growth is mostly coming from high-end products. Sales of white rum are in decline and it’s the “newer” ranges that are boosting sales: spiced rums, “rhums arrangés” and aged rums in particular. That’s the overview of the financial side of things. As far as the impact on our taste buds is concerned, it speaks for itself – rum has been tempting us into an orgy of dreams and pleasure for over 10 years, as Rumporter readers will be well aware.
LM: With double the area, almost 200 brands, exhibitors from 60 countries and a fresh look for the stands, is Rhum Fest Paris positioning itself to becoming the biggest rum fair in Europe?
CH: To be perfectly frank, that is our goal, we don’t deny it, but it doesn’t necessarily just depend on us, as we’re not playing a game of all-out one-upmanship. We resisted it for a long time, but we do have to support the explosion of rum in its diversity.
Every year for the last five years, we’ve managed to squeeze more into the fair, but this has become unsustainable for the comfort of exhibitors and visitors alike. We’re expanding and are also expanding our pleasure offering with more activities, bigger premises, more food outlets (to avoid queues), more rest areas and gastronomic openings with Gault et Millau…
LM: Are other spirits trade fairs pushing you to become more aggressive and creative?
CH: For sure, we need to assert ourselves as the signature event, as the choices our exhibitors are faced with are pretty appalling plus they don’t have infinite financial and human resources. This shows at the sales level, negotiations are tense and we can’t rest on our laurels.
We need to continue offering new methods of communication for rum (Rumporter TV interviews, a second Master Class, Escape Game, hands-on workshops, immersive spaces, etc.) and new visitor experiences (Chill Out Garden, more restaurants, more educational activities etc.). Having said that, the fair is still centred around tastings and travel, and on that level, we are spoilt with a slew of new products, especially new origins.
LM: Among the exhibitors, there are several new origins – Africa, Madeira, Asia… Has rum become an international spirit? Has the production of sugar cane soared in parallel?
CH: Sugar cane production shot up a long time ago, together with sugar consumption. The reason behind these new origins comes more from the desire for some countries to move beyond their local consumer markets (Madeira) and the phenomenon of craft distilleries (South Africa and South East Asia) which allows small production units to be set up in close proximity to sugar cane fields.
South Africa and Thailand, to mention just two countries, have figured amongst the largest sugar producers for decades, yet it’s only recently that a handful of entrepreneurs (often French in the case of South East Asia) saw an opportunity to create local rums. We shouldn’t forget that the sugar market has been fully liberalised for some time and that rum is an excellent way to make more profitable those sectors weakened by the competition of low-cost giants, such as Brazil, India…or there’s beet.
This industrial dimension isn’t the driving force behind the rums mentioned above because they aren’t products derived from the sugar industry, but I’m sure that it’s a major factor globally. In this context, the best example of impassioned and vital intelligence is Mauritius, an island that seems to understand everything before everybody else. Having focused its sugar industry entirely around speciality sugars with high added value, it also threw itself enthusiastically into the production of rum. This happened (only) fifteen years ago, and we know just how successful it’s been.
LM: Have you noticed any emerging categories in the fair, spiced rum, “rhum arrangé”, independent bottlers?
CH: All 3, Sir! These three categories have literally exploded and so much the better because they allow producers to express themselves without necessarily having enormous financial means at their disposal. We try to support them without messing around with their prices. When you consider that Cédric from Rhums de Ced exhibited at the very first Rhum Fest with a budget that wouldn’t cover a 4-night stay in Paris (breakfast excluded) and you see where he is today, you want to say a resounding “yes” to people like Délices Métisses who create a product with passion and finesse, which they are sharing with ever more people.
LM: You’ve created a new centre, the Market Place, targeting the various players in the rum industry. What’s the purpose of this new space?
CH: Given that the entire world of rum comes to Paris in April, we wanted to provide professionals with a more comfortable meeting space than the sometimes-damp grass of Parc Floral. In addition, we are starting an exchange programme via a platform on our website which will allow professionals in the sector to meet up at the fair.
Whether rum producers, coopers, still manufacturers, European spirit distributers, glassmakers etc., many people that don’t know each other meet up at the fair and don’t necessarily have the time to sit down. The idea behind the Market Place is to allow these people to work “ahead of the game” and to meet onsite in a dedicated space with tables and chairs (the essentials!).
LM: Who’s headlining the next Master Classes and what are the new themes and issues to be raised?
CH: We’ve never had as much demand for conferences as we have this year, so we’re having to open a second conference room. The headliners are Alexandre Gabriel and Guillaume Ferroni, of course, but there are also a lot of newcomers who want to make their voices heard: Africa, Cape Verde, Madeira, Japan etc.. We’re also working on a programme for professionals (bartenders and cellar masters) with David Cordoba, Guillaume C. Leblanc (ex-Dirty Dick) and Christian de Montaguère.
LM: This is the first year that you’re developing the fair’s gastronomic side. What types of cuisine will be on offer?
CH: Gastronomy has always been present in its simplest form (eating well!) with the presence of food trucks, as every year we (re)select food trucks with festival-related themes (Martinique with Beau Caillou, Venezuela with Alji Dulce, Thailand with Richard’s Hot-Dog). Last year, we worked with the brilliant David Loyola from “Deux Amis” in Paris, and this year we’re welcoming a new Afro-Caribbean inspired food truck, New Soul Food.
LM: Which stands are not to be missed?
CH: I won’t answer that question, my dear Laurence, because I don’t want to get into trouble if I forget someone.
Informations & tickets : www.rhumfestparis.com