Rum in Canada : Simon Bourbeau, Account Director, Supply Management at SAQ

Simon Bourbeau, Account Director, Supply Management at SAQ: “Rum is the 3rd most sold category by volume with 19.5%, behind vodka (20, 5%) and liquors (22.3%). In 2020, sales grew by 10% in value and 6% in volume.”

Simon Bourbeau
Simon Bourbeau

Fabien Humbert: How is rum doing in Quebec?

Simon Bourbeau: Over our fiscal year, which ended last March, the SAQ sold 5.5 million bottles of rum. Rum is the 3rd most sold category with 19.5%, behind vodka (20.5%) and liquors (22.3%).

In 2020, sales increased by 10% in value and 6% in volume. It is the second most dynamic category of spirits, it has even surpassed vodka for the number of references distributed (262 in all).

This is a good performance, but it is the gins, and in particular the Quebec gins, that have recorded the biggest growth with +30% in our country. We sold 4.8 million bottles of gin in 2020 while the number of Quebecers of drinking age is 6.5 million!

FH: And what about agricole rum?

SB: Agricultural rums are also growing by 12% but they represent only 2% of sales for the moment. The category of rum most sold is that of “amber” rums with more than 50%, where Captain Morgan stands out. The “black” rums are also doing very well (x5), as are the dark rums.

We only have a few rhum arrangés but we have noticed that they are more and more sought after. We will therefore look for new references in the coming year. On the other hand, the growth of white rums is negative (-3%).

le rhum au canada

FH: Is there a market for aged rums in Quebec?

SB: If we look at the price, we realize that with the health crisis, the fact that people no longer travel and no longer go to restaurants, they were willing to put more in a bottle. It’s true for champagne, it’s true for wine and it’s also true for rum.

So another of our objectives this year will be to seek out allocations of rum with a mention of age, rare and high-end rums. We have also set up a lottery system to market these highly sought-after bottles. We invented it for whiskies and wines but we are extending it to rum.

FH: A lottery to buy rum? How does it work?

SB:Consumers can register online (exclusively) and choose the bottles they are interested in. Then we proceed to a random draw and the luckiest customers will be able to buy the bottles they want.

It’s a much fairer system. Among the premium rums, the West Indian agricole rums are very popular. In fact, the success of a rum depends a lot on the agents who represent them for us.

le rhum au canada

FH: So to succeed in Quebec, you have to pay for the services of an agent?

SB: It is not obligatory but it is better because we work in partnership with them, we know that they will find nuggets for us. And for the producer it’s good to have a guide in the sometimes complex system of the SAQ. It’s also the agent’s duty to go out to SAQ stores and convince them to sell the products they represent.

FH: What are the other trends in the rum market in Quebec?

SB: There is a real trend in ready-to-drink spirits. It’s growing phenomenally in Quebec, more than 40% by 2020. Moreover, it is a worldwide trend since it has led to a shortage of cans!

Last year we had one reference on rum and this year we have increased to five references: mojito, Cuba libre… This allows us to attract new customers to the rum category.

FH: We are seeing the arrival of non-alcoholic rums in France, is this also the case in Quebec?

SB:  Non-alcoholic rums that allow you to make ‘virgin’ cocktails are also a real trend, which emerged especially during the covid 19 pandemic. For example, if January can be a month without alcohol, it is especially February that is marked by a strong abstinence among our customers.

They are then looking for substitute products to continue to enjoy themselves. As a state monopoly, we have a social responsibility to encourage these trends and to advocate responsible consumption.

FH: How do you explain rum, a category that is not always easy to understand, to your customers?

SB: To help consumers make their choice, we have divided them into several categories: amber, spiced, brown, white, agricole, flavored, golden and black. But we also opted for explanatory and colored tablets that can be found both on the internet and soon in our stores: gray for light and fruity rums, blue for fruity and aromatic rums, red for woody and spicy rums, brown for woody and roasted, violet for vanilla and spicy, and finally purple for vanilla and roasted.

This allows customers to choose a rum according to the taste they are looking for. This was necessary because rum has such a wide range of flavors. But this is not the case for all spirits, we have not set up this system for vodka, for example. We also rely on the ‘Inspire’ program. This card is held by 2 million Quebecers. They accumulate points with each purchase and can use them later.

It also allows us to do data analysis in order to offer a personalized customer experience based on their preferences. We can then introduce them to products they might like, whether they’re shopping online or even in-store. Inspire cardholders are heavy spirit buyers, on average between 35 and 44 years old, and are both male and female.

FH: What about Quebec rums?

S :  There are indeed rums from Quebec, despite the purists who sometimes think that rums must necessarily come from countries where sugarcane grows. Often they are made from imported molasses and some are of high quality, such as Rosemont or St-Roc.

For example, we have put in place a signage system that informs the consumer whether or not the products are from Quebec. We now distinguish between products (wines, ciders, rums, etc.) that have all their ingredients from Quebec and the others.

Of course this cannot be the case for rum since we do not produce sugar cane or molasses. Unless there is a climatic miracle…

The other categories of Quebec rums are those ‘prepared in Quebec’, where a certain percentage of ingredients may come from outside, or simply ‘bottled in Quebec’.

FH: Here we are very fussy about the legal definition of a rum, how is it in your country?

SB:  We have a less restrictive definition of rum. It must be a potable alcoholic distillate or a mixture of potable alcoholic distillates obtained from sugarcane or sugarcane products fermented with yeast or a mixture of yeast and other microorganisms.

Unlike in France where it is not allowed to be flavored, caramel, fruit and other vegetable substances, aromatic substances and flavoring preparations, it is possible with the right denominations here.

On the other hand, it is forbidden to sell rum, for consumption, in Canada, that has not been aged in small casks for at least one year.

FH: So you can’t sell unaged rum at the SAQ?

SB: Aging of rum is mandatory according to the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations. Certificates of age and origin for spirits distilled, produced or packaged in Canada are issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Our suppliers must be able to provide us with certificates of ageing from a government inspection agency in their country of origin when requested. However, in the case of rums made under a controlled designation of origin (AOC) or a protected geographical indication (PGI), such as rum from Martinique, rum from Guadeloupe and rum from Guyana, we accept the methods indicated in the specifications for aging since they are protected and recognized in Canada.

So it is possible to find unaged agricole rum from Martinique or Guadeloupe in our stores.

FOCUS : The LCBO in 3 questions:

What is the LCBO?

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is a government corporation in Ontario and one of the largest buyers and retailers of alcoholic beverages in the world. Through more than 675 branches across the province, 400 express outlets and as a wholesaler for more than 450 grocery stores, the LCBO offers consumers and liquor licensees a range of more than 28,000 products from over 80 countries each year.

The net income from LCBO sales is paid to the province in the form of an annual dividend and helps fund important public services and programs such as health care, education and infrastructure at the local and provincial levels.

What kinds of rums are sold?

The LCBO offers 147 rums in a variety of formats. Some of the LCBO’s most popular rums include Bacardí, Appleton, Captain Morgan, El Dorado, Kraken, Sailor Jerry, Havana Club, Mount Gay and Bumbu.

There are only two ‘French’ rums, St. James and Plantation, and three Ontario-produced rums: Copperhead Pirate Rum, Persian Empire Coconut and the excellent Leatherback from the North Of 7 distillery.

In 2020, the LCBO sold approximately 4.4 million bottles of rum, considering the province’s population of 14.7 million. They are categorized as follows:  White Rum (luxury, premium or regular depending on price), Dark or Amber Rum (luxury, premium or regular depending on price), Spiced Rum, Flavored Rum and finally, Cachaça.

What is the maximum amount of ethyl carbamate in rum sold by the LCBO?

The maximum amount of ethyl carbamate established by the LCBO is 150 µm/L

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