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A Drink With… Matthieu de Lassus, GBH Spirit Division

Matthieu de Lassus, export director for Groupe Bernard Hayot Spirit Division – owner of Rhum Clément, Rhum J.M. and Saint Lucia Distillers – on how to capitalise on the rum boom.

Matthieu de Lassus, export director for Groupe Bernard Hayot Spirit Divisio

What excites you most about your role?
The most exciting thing is to consider the long way that we have come: from very local brands to truly international brands with distribution in over 60 countries worldwide. In the very first years, very few people really paid attention to super-premium rums as the market was mostly driven by four or five big brands with standard prices. It took a lot of passion, time and effort from our team and partners all over the word to progressively raise the attention toward this category of fine rums. Now that demand for premium and super-premium rums is booming, we have the exciting feeling to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right products.

And what is the most challenging?
The most challenging is to stay true to our origin, history and identity. Temptations were high in the past to produce more commercial rums – lighter and/or sweeter – in order to catch easy sales in some export markets. This would, of course, have been a short-term vision and would have jeopardised the future of our brands. To a certain extent, working with brands with such strong heritage and strong regulation can be considered as a burden, but it also prevents you from simply following every trend of the market. We know now that this heritage is our strongest asset to differentiate our brands from the others.

How is GBH helping to grow the category?
The biggest challenge is the lack of clear segmentation and understanding of this category by both professionals and customers. What is the main difference betweenRhumClémentVSOP,Zacapa23 or Chairman’s Reserve? In order to help our customers answer this question (and others), we decided a few years ago with our partner Damoiseau to set up a clear segmentation called World of Rum based on the differentstyles of rum: French, English and Spanish. The result of this small initiative surpassed our expectations. All our partners have endorsed this segmentation, many liquor stores and bars are now reorganising their portfolio according to this classification and we are happy to see other rum brands using this infographic in their masterclasses.

Which markets are the most exciting for you at the moment?
Last year was a historic year, with a global 40% increase of our international sales. In Europe, the French market is leading with a surging demand for aged rums, and outside of France, the USA and Italy remain our leading markets with strong and sustainable growth year after year.

What does the recent acquisition of Saint Lucia Distillers (SLD) bring to GBH?
This acquisition represents a natural step forward for GBH, which aims to become a key player in the fast-growing premium and super-premium rum segments. SLD brands such as Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney will benefit from our international network, while providing us with easier access to a few major markets such as UK, USA, and Australia, where they already stand as highly regarded brands.

What’s next for the distillery?
We intend to start an aggressive investment programme. Part of this will be to improve existing production facilities, build new ageing cellars, and create a remarkable visitor experience making the Saint Lucia distillery a ‘must-see’ for the million visitors coming to Saint Lucia every year. In the next few months we will also review our range of products. Chairman’s Reserve, Admiral Rodney and Bounty rums are three superb brands with strong identities and potential to become world-leading brands in the near future. We need to make sure that their packaging reflects their strong assets and positioning.

Are you approaching any new markets?
With the arrival of Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney in our portfolio, international markets will become our biggest challenge. We took the decision to grow our existing team of area managers in order to work closer to our markets and directly approach most of the countries where we are not present yet. Europe and USA remain our priorities but we now have strong expectations for Asia and Australia and will look closer to the African market.

How important are cocktail competitions to growing brands?
The cocktail competition is a fantastic tool to create a special link between our brands and bartenders, who are important for small brands like us. With our Ti Punch Cup organised in 10 different countries, we also wanted to bring forward our Martinique roots and promote our island and our culture as much as our brand.

And finally, what is your drink of choice?
There is nothing better than a refreshing Ti Punch – with white or aged rum!

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