Sovereign Brands founder Brett Berish reveals the driving forces behind Bumbu, the top-selling super-premium rum in the UK on-trade.
“If we had this conversation five years ago when we launched the brand, you’d be saying ‘why the hell would you want to do this, because look at the trends in rum, they’re not good,” Berish said about Bumbu, his Barbados-based rum brand, which is backed by Pernod Ricard.
Berish founded spirits company Sovereign Brands in 1999, which counts a gin called McQueen and the Violet Fog and Scotch whisky The Deacon in its portfolio – but its rum Bumbu, in particular, is seeing great success.
According to Nielsen data for the 12 months to 9 September 2023, Bumbu was the biggest-selling super-premium rum in the UK on-trade after soaring by 75.9% to 1,058 nine-litre cases.
Furthermore, Bumbu became the 10th-largest rum brand in the UK off-trade in 2023, growing its value by 36% (Nielsen data). It marked the first time the brand moved into the top 10.
The brand is available in major UK supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda, and pub chain JD Wetherspoons. Berish said: “In the UK, Weatherspoons is one of our biggest supporters. I think that’s had a huge impact on the brand. And I love Wetherspoons. I think Tesco has had a huge impact on our brand, because they were one of the first retailers to get behind us – along with Asda.
The most important factor in the brand’s trajectory? Berish believes it’s simply down to taste: “You could have the best marketing in the world, the biggest brand ambassadors in the world, you could have the greatest package in the world, but if they don’t like it, they’re not going to come back again,” he explained.
Smart pricing helps too – Berish is a fan of the €30 to €40 (US$33-US$44) bracket. “I want to give it a price point where it feels like you’re buying something that could be more expensive,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people said our brands should be twice the price”. Berish said this bracket is the “hardest price point to achieve success”, but if you can be successful it’s a great price point to be in. “There’s margin for everybody and there’s value,” he added.
As for the trend of celebrities getting involved, although rapper Lil Wayne fronts Bumbu’s marketing campaigns (and it’s without a doubt a plus in boosting sales), it’s not a game changer. “In Latvia, we’re the number one premium rum and one of every two bottles of rum is Bumbu. They don’t know who Lil Wayne is. It has nothing to do with it. But everything helps,” Berish noted. “You could look at the flip side – all the celebrities that have done brands that haven’t worked. There’s probably 99% that haven’t. To me, if you’re relying on a celebrity, I think it’s a bad brand.”
He also cites the “bold” design of the bottles as a talking point: “I hope they stand out. I hope they look different and creative, because I don’t have the money like Diageo and the rest of the big suppliers, to market or advertise my way to success. “You need the story, the packaging, the liquid, you need a little bit of everything to be successful – I was in Romania and the biggest artist in Romania was a huge fan of our brand, that helps too.”
Relationship with Pernod Ricard
Last summer, French spirits firm Pernod Ricard signed a deal to distribute its products in the UK.
The move built upon the companies’ long-term relationship that saw Pernod take a minority stake in Sovereign Brands in 2021, before increasing its ownership in October 2022 for an undisclosed amount. Pernod has access to more than 70 countries, Berish added.
Of the relationship, Berish said: “To me they are still a family company, they are number two in the world, they want to be number one. They are fighters. My goal is to integrate our brands into their distribution.”
In terms of doing new things Berish said he’s not in a rush: “If you’re in New York today, drinking Bumbu and Deacon, and if you go to London tomorrow, you’re not going to switch brands, you want the same brand. If you’re at the best restaurant or bar you’re gonna order the same thing. That’s what I want.”
Global expansion plans
“This year I’m targeting Asia and Africa,” Berish said, adding that the company has just launched in Kazakhstan. “The goal for my brands is being in 70 countries, all having success. I don’t treat any market as big or small.”
As for McQueen and the Violet Fog gin, Berish believes it’s “critical” to the company, but he wants to keep it in the States where the category is experiencing a boom. “We’re doing unbelievably well with McQueen and the Violet Fog and our new Ultraviolet Edition, which is actually bigger than the original now in the US. I’m a big believer in ‘walk before you run’.
“It’s not about throwing brands out there, it’s about making sure we get behind the brands, and making them successful in the trade, and then I can introduce something else later on behind them.”
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Author: Rupert Hohwieler