The distillation of rum was born with the discovery of the Americas. The cane, which had travelled from India to the Iberian Peninsula, established itself in the Western Indies and, over time, produced something more than just sugar: from the fermentation of its juices came this spirit, which competes in flavours and aromas with the best in the world.
In 1929, Juan Barceló, a Mallorcan by birth, founded the rum company that bears his name. Since then, Ron Barceló has been associated with Dominican culture and economy and has gained undisputed prestige in the international distilled spirits market.
Its aroma and taste did not go unnoticed by the Belgian company CINOCO, the brand’s representative in Belgium. To learn about its experience of marketing Ron Barceló in Belgium, we visited Stephan De Bolle, Spirit, Aperitif and Sparkling Director.
a. How long have you been marketing Ron Barceló? How did you get to know the brand?
CINOCO has been marketing the Ron Barceló brand since mid-2015. We discovered it at a trade show in Berlin. At that time we didn’t have a Dominican rum, and we were looking to diversify our product portfolio. We only had rums from the Lesser Antilles (Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago). Barceló represented the opportunity to expand our value proposition, and Ron Barceló is very interested in improving its presence in the European market.
I approached the brand’s stand, where the importer to Germany and a representative of Barceló were present. We had a brief exchange, and from there followed negotiations for CINOCO to become the representative of Ron Barceló in Belgium.
b. Which Ron Barceló products do you sell?
Marketing focuses on the range of golden rums. Currently, our product portfolio includes Barceló Imperial, Barceló Gran Añejo and since only a few months ago, Barceló Imperial Onyx, which is the most premium rum offered by the brand.
Barceló Imperial represents more than 50% of sales. This rum is a value-added product in an affordable price category, while Gran Añejo competes directly with other brands in the market.
c. How has the market evolved in Belgium?
In the period 2015-2016, consumption of spirits was increasing between 10 and 15 % per year. Following fiscal adjustments by the Belgian government, the growth trend in the premium category is now stable but slower.
However, CINOCO’s strategy is focused on offering very high-end products. Since taxes are calculated based on the alcohol content and volume of the bottle, not on its price, this softens the impact on the prices of our products.
d. What other challenges does the Belgian market present?
We have identified a change in the behaviour of the end consumer, who is moving from consuming alcoholic beverages in venues after dinner to drinking them at home. Reasons for this change in consumption include strong alcohol controls and changes in regulations on the sale of alcohol in food and beverage service companies. We have reorganised our marketing priorities accordingly.
Within this group, a growing market is that of younger people who, as a result of their entry into the labour market, begin to become economically independent. This consumer is interested in higher quality beverages and is curious about the high-end rum category. Consumption habits even vary according to the geographical region: more rum is consumed in Brussels and southern Belgium than in the north. In the rum category, there is less price comparison, which is not the case with other drinks that attract cost-sensitive consumers.
Rum is still a novelty in the Belgian market. Educating the consumer is also important. That they can access our brand through festivals and master classes gives them the opportunity to discover it at a very affordable price before buying the product. This generates confidence in the bottle they purchase.
e. Have you had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic?
In February 2018 I was invited to the Barceló Rum distillery in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, together with a group of international importers. The factory offers guided tours for people interested in the manufacturing process of Barceló Rum, although I would have liked to learn even more technical aspects of the production process.
It was the first time I had visited the Dominican Republic. The experience of knowing the country and its people was so pleasant that I have already agreed with my wife that we will return.
f. CINOCO offers exclusive, high-end products. What qualities did you identify in Ron Barceló to add it to your premium product portfolio?
The rums we previously offered were agricultural rums made directly from the distillation of sugar cane juice, highly flavoured, and traditional rums made from molasses, with a strong wood flavour.
With rum being a product category aimed at both the female and male markets, we were in search of a more accessible rum, softer on the palate, that could be consumed both in cocktails and pure. Both Barceló Gran Añejo and Barceló Imperial can be enjoyed straight.
g. How does Stephan De Bolle enjoy Ron Barceló?
Personal experience with the products influences has a bearing on our decision to market them. For CINOCO it is essential to be able to enjoy their brands during a pleasant evening, surrounded by friends. At the moment, Ron Barceló is in my top five spirits of all the destinations I have visited, mainly due to the exotic nature, its geographical origin, the climate and the opportunity to meet the Dominican people.
The best way to drink rum depends on the season of the year. Thus, in the summer months, I enjoy light and refreshing cocktails with Barceló Gran Añejo. Starting in November, my advice is to try Barceló Onyx, which combines smoked and more pronounced wood flavours, and Barceló Imperial straight. I like to invite my friends to a rum tasting after a good dinner, explaining the characteristics of each product and enjoying not only the rum but also the stories of my trip to the Dominican Republic. It’s not enough to say “this is the best drink in the world”. You have to share the passion, the culture. The more you know about the manufacturing process, from sugar cane to the final product, the richer the experience.
In 1929, Barceló & Co was founded in the city of Santo Domingo. Over the years, the company has been able to maintain a strong market presence thanks to the diversification of its product portfolio and the modernisation of its image. Today, Ron Barceló is present in more than 50 countries and is positioned as the fourth largest rum exporter in the world.
The history of CINOCO begins in 1691, when Jan Lucas Nolet founded a distillery in the Netherlands, although later a branch of the family returned to Belgium. Since the end of the 19th century, the company has been distributing European spirits, champagnes and fine wines. In 1955 the family house was renamed CINOCO (after the then president of the company, Carl-Ivan Nolet). The family business was passed down from generation to generation to the present day, each safeguarding the original vision of its founder: to offer quality products for the maximum enjoyment of its customers.
With a portfolio of more than 3,000 products, CINOCO is the Belgian independent market leader in the import of medium and high-end wines and spirits. It also owns a distillery in Antwerp, which produces the Elixir d’Anvers
Currently, CINOCO’s turnover is around 30 million euros per year, and it has a workforce of approximately 50 employees. The annual sales volume reaches five million bottles, and they keep about 2.5 million bottles in stock in their cellars and warehouses.
You can also read the interview with J. Cortès, Belgian cigar producers, on this link.