CBS hones in on Havana Club dispute

3rd January, 2017 by Tom Bruce-Gardyne

The rumbling trademark feud over the rights to Havana Club rum in the US hit prime time TV last weekend when CBS News’s 60 Minutes programme flew to Cuba to investigate.

Havana-Club

CBS News’ 60 Minutes programme delved into the Pernod Ricard/Bacardi trademark dispute this weekend

Who makes the real Havana Club? asked the American TV channel CBS in The Rum War as part of its influential 60 Minutes news show on New Year’s Day.

Reporter Sharyn Alfonsi travelled to Cuba to tell the 15 million-strong audience the story of the long-running trade mark dispute between Pernod Ricard and Bacardi, who both make a version of ‘Havana Club’. She called it a war “as bitter as the Cold War ever was”

With US-Cuban relations thawing, the French giant and its joint-partner, state-owned Corporación Cuba Ron, are licking their lips at the prospect of access to the giant US market if the 1962 trade embargo is finally lifted. Alfonsi interviewed Pernod’s Jérôme Cottin-Bizonne, CEO of Havana Club International, in one of the firm’s warehouses, and told viewers: “Consumers in the US drink 40% of the world’s rum which explains why they’re stacking barrels sky high in Cuba in preparation.”

Cottin-Bizonne was adamant, saying: “We know that one day we will be able to sell our rum – the true Havana Club made in Cuba, and that US consumers will have the opportunity to enjoy it.” But Rick Wilson, Bacardi’s senior VP for external affairs, was having none of it. “The true Havana Club,” he told Alfonsi, “is made with the recipe of the founders of Havana Club that Bacardi is making and selling in the USA.” The founders were the Arechabala family who fled Cuba after the revolution in 1959 and sold the recipe to Bacardi in the 1990s for a reported US$1.25 million. At some point Bacardi began distilling its Havana Club in Puerto Rico and last year launched a new variant and unveiled plans for a national roll-out in the US.

Because the family were never compensated by the Castro regime, Wilson claimed: “We’re making a moral and legal argument… It’s stolen property, that’s what it comes down to.” But for Pernod Ricard the essence of the brand is the island itself. “It’s very simple,” Cottin-Bizonne told Alfonsi, “to make a Cuban rum you have to make it in Cuba.” The French group only became involved in Havana Club in 1993, twenty years after the original US patent had lapsed.

With volumes up from 5 million bottles in year one to 50 million today, it’s no wonder that Pernod Ricard are so eager to take the US rum market by storm, or that Bacardi are so keen to stop them. The omens for an end to the trade embargo appeared good with diplomatic relations restored and an easing of travel restrictions under President Obama. But as Spirits Business reported in November, president-elect Trump is threatening to undo those moves. Watch this space.

Click here to view the episode in full.

One Response to “CBS hones in on Havana Club dispute”

  1. Kendra says:

    I would love a trip to Cuba and a good rum made local! Interesting story!

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