29 Jun, 2020
Often falsely portrayed as uniformly saccharine, rum is one of the most diverse spirits on the planet, and has been a major economic driver for Caribbean distilleries for centuries. Each Caribbean region produces its own distinct style of rum ranging from crisp, complex bottles and subtly sweet blends, to bold whiskey-like distillations. In Grenada, the more exotic rums tend embody a sweet fruity or flowery flavour. This especially holds true for the blends emanating from the Grenada Distillers Limited.
As one of the largest and best-known distilleries on the island, Grenada Distillers Limited has been in operation since 1937 as the Grenada Sugar Factory. The company offers a wide of range of 17 rum-based products, which are distributed under the Clarkes Court Rum brand. These include white and red rum, lemon and sorrel flavoured rums, liqueurs, and menthylated spirits.
“In an effort to expand the current product offering, the company has began to look at producing new rum flavours and textures”, shared Leroy Neckles, the Chairman of the Board. “One of our newer additions to the line is the Grenadian mojito, and we anticipate that this will do just as well as our other products.”
Leroy has been involved in the Grenadian sugar industry for some time, so naturally this became a motivating factor in establishing a business within this sector.
“My family had an interest in the sugar industry, as my father was one of the single-largest distributors of sugar cane to the then Grenada Sugar Factory. When the Government decided to divest itself from the factory, I saw it as an opportunity for me to get involved in that part of the industry and keep operations 100% Grenadian.”
Despite his experience, Leroy admits that there were still some challenges to overcome in transitioning from a factory to a full-fledged distillery.
“Financing was a major challenge because it was costly to make the improvements necessary when we started to operationalise the distillery. Also having the employees accept the changes that were being implemented was also a bit of a difficulty, essentially getting some of them to accept the modernisation of the factory.”
However, due to his focus and tenacity, Leroy never lost sight of his goal for the company; and today, Grenada Distillers supplies supermarkets and duty-free shops island-wide, with exports to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the Caribbean. With a staff complement of 50 persons, the company hopes to expand their international reach to include more European countries.
“Right now our strategy for entering new markets is centred primarily on assessing the market needs in terms of the price, flavour and packaging of our products. Once we have gathered enough information, we establish the relevant contacts and begin negotiating to export.”
Much of the work that Grenada Distillers undertakes to access these markets is done independently, but the company also has a collaborative relationship with the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association (WIRSPA), an association of national associations of rum producers in the Caribbean.
“Clarkes Court Rum is recognised as carrying the Authentic Caribbean Rum marque, which was developed as a symbol of authenticity, provenance and quality for rums within the WIRSPA family. They are one of the regional organisations that have played a role in our success.”
Another regional organisation that has made an impact on award-winning distillery is the Caribbean Export Development Agency. Grenada Distillers engaged with the Agency for the first time in 2011 when the company applied for and secured a Direct Assistance Grant for the procurement of laboratory equipment.
“With Caribbean Export’s help we were able to improve the quality and standard of the products offered. The company is also now capable of meeting and satisfying the import and food safety requirements for the countries to which we wish to export because of the assistance provided by the Agency.”
In addition to the Direct Assistance Grant, Grenada Distillers has participated in Break Point, the Brand Development and Packaging Workshop and proposals writing workshops. Leroy believes that the support offered by Caribbean Export has been tremendous and recognises the Agency as having played a significant role in the increased exports that the company has achieved.
In the long-term, Grenada Distillers wants to build on their current success by increasing their volume of exports and by continually improving the quality of products they offer.
“Within the next few months, the plan is to examine and revamp our branding and packaging, as well as introduce new flavoured rums to the product line, and value-added products such as syrups.”
The astute businessman thinks that regional firms need to pay special attention to the quality and presentation of their products if they want to be taken seriously as a competitive enterprise. Additionally, he believes that firms should seek to meet the necessary import and food safety requirements are critical especially when seeking to enter new markets.
“As Caribbean businesses looking to get into international markets, we need to familiarise ourselves with the requirements from customs to customer satisfaction. Attention to detail is also paramount as it can have a significant impact on not only your bottom line, but also your reputation”.
Leroy sees the Caribbean as having an untapped potential, not just in rum but also in other sectors. Adding that we have something so special and appealing culturally that no other country can come close to imitating or offering what is unique to us.
With a drive and determination that is to second to none, it is no surprise that Leroy and the Grenada Distillers team have been able to transform a piece of Grenadian history into a reputable and prosperous spirited brand with an export focus.
This article was originally published in Primed for Success Vol. 3.