By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press Writer
Cuba’s Havana Club rum brand sold a record 2.6 million cases last year, fueled by a 30 percent sales surge in the island’s domestic market, company officials said Wednesday.
Enrique Noste, Havana Club’s director of marketing for Cuba, said the company’s rums now rank 34th out of the world’s 100 top-selling spirits. He did not provide overall sales figures for 2005, but said the company topped the 2 million-case mark for the first time in 2004, while selling barely 1 million in 1998 and just 460,000 in 1994.
Havana Club sells more rum in Cuba than anywhere else. Its sales on the island reached 960,000 cases in 2006 and will top a million this year, said Noste, who said the country’s top-selling spirit has long been cheap varieties of white rum.
“It’s a sector that is very popular with the population,” he said. “Undoubtedly, it’s a type of drink that has been a big hit with the Cuban people and it’s the base of growth for us. We have had growth in other sectors, but it’s the strongest.”
Havana Club brands account for 40 percent of total sales in Cuba’s alcohol market, and Noste credited last year’s surge in its popularity on “continued loyalty,” as well as dips in domestic sales of other spirits. He also said government efforts to aggressively market and distribute the brand on the island and abroad helped.
Alberto Rodriguez, a director of the Havana Club brand, said officials have focused marketing efforts in recent years on bolstering sales of the company’s higher-priced, premium rums, including an anejo variety aged 7 years.
He said the 7-year-old dark rum is the company’s “strategic” product for the future, answering an international trend toward using higher quality rum in mixed drinks such as Cuba’s famous mojitos.
The Cuban government has produced rum under the Havana Club label since 1960 and it has been available worldwide since 1993, when it partnered with the French beverage company Pernod Ricard SA.
Italy is the brand’s top overseas market, followed by Germany, Spain and France. Washington’s 45-year-old trade embargo against Cuba prohibits the sale of Havana Club in the United States
A rum produced by Bacardi USA Inc., based on a Cuban recipe and sold as Havana Club in the United States, hit shelves in August. Barely a week later, Pernod Richard USA filed a federal complaint saying that Barcardi did not have the right to use the Havana Club trademark.
Noste said Wednesday that “the company has begun actions to protect the brand.”