Lifting Appleton, White Overproof Rum high on Campari Group's priorities — CEO

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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Strengthening the Appleton Estate and White Overproof Rum brands in Jamaica and overseas remains one of the priorities of the Campari Group, whose chief executive officer is satisfied with the progress that has been made so far with the products since the Italy-based group took control of J Wray & Nephew six years ago.

Robert (Bob) Kunze-Concewitz, on one of his infrequent visits to Jamaica, last week underscored the value of some of the favourite local brands to the continued success of J Wray & Nephew and the broader Campari Group, which changed from the original Gruppo Campari at the end of December last year.

“Jamaica is the second- largest market in the Americas. It's our fourth- largest market internationally. Appleton Estate is part of our global priority brands, which means that all of our subsidiaries internationally, it's the number one priority to build the brands which enter into that list, which includes Campari, Aperol, Sky, Wild Turkey, and Appleton Estate.

“In terms of Appleton — dark, aged rum is still a small part of the overall rum market, but it's the one that is growing nicely and consistently and also premiumising over time — we think we have the finest brand which consumers can really dream about and bring it to their lips. There is one major difference of Jamaican dark, aged rum against most of the rums found in the Caribbean and that is with Jamaican legislation. if you write 21, or in this case 25, the minimum age of the rum which you have in the bottle is 25 years old.

“Most other brands use a method called the Solera method, which ageing spirits makes a lot of angels thirsty. Scotland is cold so you use two per cent a year, the Caribbean is warm so you can go up to eight per cent in the first year. So, if you kept just the barrel the way it is, you will have very little left in the barrel come 21 years. Those using the Solera method top up the barrel every year with young spirit, so by the time you get to 21 there is a drop of the 21 left. whereas in Jamaica, what we do is take other barrels from the same year every two to three years and we cannibalise some barrels and top it up, so you really end up with something that is very magical and very unique, and this is something that can rival the best single malts in the world,” he said, insisting that the message must be sent to the public in a forceful way.

“It has become part of our marketing thrust because the story needs to be told, because consumers aren't aware of these facts out there and there is a lot of confusion out there that there is not one rule which applies across the Caribbean for all of the brands.

“If you go to the Scotch Whisky Association which lays down the rules, and all have to attain to that.whereas, rum production is spread across many different countries and they all have their own rules and regulations and that leaves the consumer pretty confused or at best ignorant of what differentiates one brand and its production method versus another brand,” the Campari Group top man said.

The then Gruppo Campari struck a deal with CL Financial Group of Companies for 81.4 per cent ownership of Lascelles deMercado and Company Ltd, parent company of J Wray & Nephew Ltd on September 3, 2012, and has continued the profitability of the company which remains one of the large employers of labour nationally, including its related sugar factories and estates.

But getting the company from its previous owners was no ordinary Sunday afternoon stroll through Emancipation Park. It took several years of deliberations before the much-sought after Jamaican products would find new masters.

“We have been in love with the brands and the business for a long, long time,” Kunze-Concewitz revealed to the Jamaica Observer in an interview.

“It took us 13 years and three attempts to buy it, that's important. We have had a long association with Wray & Nephew; they had been our distributors of Campari when we were producing Campari locally, so we knew the company. We knew what we were buying and, knowing our business, building brands is a long-term undertaking. We never imagined we were going to do it overnight and so far we are, internationally, very much in line with our expectations, and doing better than we expected in Jamaica and in the rest of the Caribbean.

“It has been a great addition to our group in terms of route to market, because not only have we had the inclusion of a great iconic brand or series of brands internationally, but it's also been important for the development of the Campari brand here in Jamaica,” said Kunze-Concewitz, who also revealed that there was satisfaction with other local brands as well.

“Its not only the Appleton brand that we are happy with, but there is Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum which is becoming a barman's darling in all the top bars, and from there that's how we build brands.”

Doing business in Jamaica has been good for the company, the CEO said, while expressing the hope that the solid relations that exist between the company and the Government will continue.

“It's a climate in which we operate very successfully here. We find good dialogue with the Government and politicians and clearly there is the big objective of win-win. The more successful we are, the better it is for Jamaica and vice versa. We try to go abroad and really develop messaging around Jamaican excellence.

“We have iconic brands which really represent Jamaican excellence. Please do continue being ambassadors for the brands and enjoy them, because I think what is good for our brands is good for Jamaica and vice versa,” Kunze-Concewitz appealed to the Jamaican community.

As far as new initiatives are concerned, there is more in the pipeline for the Jamaican market, with other products set to be unleashed on the alcohol-consuming population.

“We are bringing into production a rum which was initially developed by the Wray & Nephew team in the UK called Koko Kanu and we are kicking off the production here. We also have a spice rum called Baron Samedi which we are testing in two different markets in Canada and Australia, so its turning out into a very interesting project. But you have to be patient. Building a brand can take anywhere between five, 10, 15, 20 years, but we have the patience,” Kunze-Concewitz shared.

One of the brands that has also been making progressive moves outside of Jamaica is Magnum Tonic Wine — a popular drink, especially among partygoers, that is also associated with local productions, among them the Magnum Kings and Queens Of dancehall music competition.

“Within our company we own more than 50 brands, and we have our own subsidiaries in over 20 countries and use third-party partners in another 180 countries. The one that is starting to develop definitely nicely, not only in the Caribbean but in the UK, is Magnum,” the CEO confirmed.

The popular wine celebrates 18 years of existence, and two of its creators are still integral to the overall running and functioning of the J Wray & Nephew operation — Chairman Jimmy Lawrence, and Master Blender Joy Spence.

“I happened to be on the team at Lascelles, at the time, that was involved in that innovation,” Lawrence interjected. “My real role in Magnum had to do with the label in particular, but we sat and brainstormed this product on a Friday. We were a guerrilla company because what we wanted was our own white overproof, but we knew couldn't get a true white overproof because we were diluting the brand, so we simply developed it on a shoestring budget. It was one of those things where you had a hungry, guerrilla, aggressive team actually doing it.

“Joy was the one who actually did the liquid. My role was the label, which I know was out of character, but it worked for us. We did that deliberately because we couldn't invest in it. We didn't have the funds to do it, so we wanted the brand to actually speak for itself and it really did, because all the attributes that were ascribed to it were basically from people's own imagination, and by doing that they were more endeared to it. So it worked that way,” stated Lawrence.

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